How’s your English?
For many English language learners, speaking is the hardest part. You can read and write in English at school in your native country. You can listen to actors in American movies at home. Speaking, on the other hand, requires you to engage with another person from another culture, and that can be scary.
Do you want to travel, go to university abroad or further your career?
English dominates your world. It’s inescapable. If you want to travel abroad, you need to be able to speak English. If you want to study at a top-notch university, you must be fluent in English. If you want to gain a leg up in the job market, English competency is a must.
What’s the TOEFL exam?
The TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language, is an academic proficiency exam designed to determine whether international students are competent enough in English to enroll in American college courses. There are four sections in the TOEFL exam: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. This courses focuses solely on the speaking section.
Why should I take the TOEFL exam?
In this course, I’ll walk you through every single part of the TOEFL speaking section. Together, we will review and analyze each of the six speaking questions. I will model answers and show you all the necessary elements you need to include in your response on test day.
Besides teaching about the content of the exam, I also focus on you, the English language learner. Our goal should not just be to improve our TOEFL speaking score, but to become more competent English speakers in general. For you to speak English with more confidence, we’ll talk about mindset, culture, personal values and emotional connection.
By the end of this course, you will have gained a deeper understanding of the structure of academic English, American culture, your personal values and the power of a growth mindset.
Welcome to TOEFL Speaking Success. I know you're excited to get started, but before we get into the actual test, make sure you download the book, TOEFL Speaking Success, in the downloads section of this lecture. We will be using the book extensively throughout the course.
"Let me show you what NOT to do."
This lecture begins with an example of what NOT to do on test day. Many students struggle when they first begin to practice for the speaking section of the exam because they're not used the question style. Here, I will walk you through two real TOEFL independent speaking examples and show you exactly how to respond.
"Your introduction is your first impression, so let me teach you how to perfect it."
The first sentence of your response is crucial. Your introduction is the first impression the TOEFL grader will have of your English speaking fluency, so you don't want to make any mistakes. Am I scaring you?Don't worry, by the end of this lecture you'll know exactly how to begin for any independent speaking question.
"Do one question multiple times."
Together, we're going to take a deeper look at your response and how to structure it to fit the requirements of the TOEFL exam. This lecture includes a lot of content, so pay attention, take notes and listen multiple times. I'll talk about the two example response, how to be persuasive, best note-taking structure and how the American education system may differ from your own.
"Personal examples will make your response powerful."
After I review how to structure your first sentence, I'll discuss one of the most crucial aspects of your independent speaking response: providing a personal example. No matter what the question, you must try to include at least one personal example in your response. From there, I'll discuss time management and how to pace your response so you say everything you need to say in 45 seconds.
"Good stories take time."
Here, I show you how to give the ultimate response, one that includes just one reason and one example. This response structure will be more difficult to master because it forces you to provide a lot of details in your personal example. However, after you watch me model the one example response, you'll agree that it sounds more natural. Keep in mind that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. If this is too difficult then answer in a way that makes you comfortable. When you start studying for the TOEFL, your comfort is most important.
"When you explain your opinion, you must explain why you feel the way you do."
In this lesson I wrap up with the independent section by reviewing key points, reciting another ideal response and pointing out some additional tips that'll help you prepare and perfect your speaking response. Repetition is a crucial aspect of learning so be sure to review the material. Do the quizzes and self-assessments and don't forget to record yourself speaking.
"Don't focus on what you did wrong; focus on what you're going to do next."
In this lesson we'll go over the grading rubric for the independent speaking tasks, which is outlined on the ETS website. I'll explain and simplify each category to help improve your understanding of what the TOEFL graders expect to hear. For more information about the TOEFL, you can visit the ETS website
"You need to be actively engaged in your learning."
The self-assessment is a vital tool for you to utilize if you expect to improve your speaking. You can't just do one task and move on to the next. You must practice, record yourself, listen to yourself and assess what you did and didn't do well.
"The content is important, of course, but you must also focus on yourself. The way you think about growth and intelligence will effect the way you study."
This is probably the most important lesson of the entire course. Here, I discuss the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. When you focus more on communicating and less on being correct, you become a much better TOEFL taker and English speaker. Remember, knowledge takes time to stick. You must learn how to cultivate a growth mindset in order to embrace challenges, fight through obstacles, view effort as the path to mastery and learn from criticism.
"What do you think I'm going to say about task 3? If you predict the information before you hear it, the content will stay deeper in your mind."
This task begins the same way as every other task, with a real-life TOEFL example done in real time. You must read the passage, listen to the conversation and then speak about them both. Don't forget to record your response. By the end of this lesson you'll have a firmer understanding of the structure of speaking question 3.
"When something changes, there must be a reason why it changed."
In this lecture we're going to exam the reading section of task #3 in more detail. I'll show you how to organize your notes in a way that reflects the information you need to identify from the reading passage. Once you complete this lesson, you'll be a much more effective listener. You'll know how to gather all of the necessary information you need to have a terrific speaking response for task #3.
"This is powerful. Once you recognize the structure of the reading and listening section, you can create an outline of a response that can be used for almost any task 3 question."
In the listening section of task #3, you will listen to a conversation between two people, and it's always between one man and one woman. From this simple detail, I will demonstrate the structure of the conversation and how your notes should reflect that structure. Expect the listening to be a direct response to the announcement in the reading section.
"Use the information I give you and build from it."
Here, we'll review everything all ready discussed about task 3. I'll recite an ideal example for you to listen to and learn from. Remember, for task 3 the TOEFL graders want to know if you can listen, read and connect the important information in both passages. After this lecture, you'll have all the tools you need to answer all future integrated speaking task 3 questions.
"Use this self-assessment every time you practice and you'll become much more aware of your weaknesses and strengths."
This unique self-assessment is designed specifically for speaking task 3. Did your response include the announcement from the reading? Do your notes from the reading and listening help guide your speaking? In your response, did you show how the listening and reading are connected? These are just a few of the questions you'll have to ask yourself whenever you assess your response to task 3.
"Reporters report when something changes."
I offer this analogy to students who still have trouble understanding how they're expected to respond to speaking task 3: Imagine you're a reporter. In this video, I explain this analogy in deeper detail so, by the end, you'll have further insight into task 3's structure.
"Think about how this task may differ from the previous three."
You will be introduced to a real TOEFL example in real time. The best way to learn something is to try to do it on your own before a teacher models it for you. Watch me take you through the question, one step at a time and, at the end, try to respond in 60 seconds. Activate your brain and think about the question before I provide you with all the tips, hints and strategies you need to succeed in task 4.
"There's a lot of material out there, but to succeed you need to focus on one strategy and stick to it. That's how you're going to improve."
Understanding the topic and definition of the reading passage is crucial for you to understand the listening passage. In this video, you'll learn about the structure of the reading, how to take notes, and what you can expect to hear from the listening passage. Once you gain a firmer understanding of the reading and note structure, you'll have the foundation needed to tackle the rest of task 4.
"Don't forget that in tasks 3 and 4 the most important thing is to show how the listening and reading are connected."
Teachers must present difficult material in a way that makes it easier for students to comprehend. That's the job of the lecturer in task 4. The professor in the listening passage must clearly explain the topic of the reading passage and she can do that through sub-categories, comparative analysis, real-world examples, etc. Watch this lecture and learn more about the listening passage and how it's connected to the reading.
"If you don't record and analyze your speaking, you won't improve."
Here, we bring together everything you've learned about task 4. Before you try to respond and record yourself again, watch me go over my notes and recite an ideal response to this particular question. After that, I'll provide some last minute advice that you can utilize when you encounter different task 4 questions in the future.
"Once you know the structure of the test and strategy to respond, use the exercises in the appendix to help you build fluency."
In this lecture, I begin by encouraging students to make multiple copies of all the self-assessments. Once you fill out each assessment and honestly score yourself on a scale from 1-10, look to the appendix section of your book for exercises that'll help target your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
"We understand things better through analogies."
This is the most serious analogy of all: imagine you're a parent and you have to explain death to a child. If you look at the reading section of any task 4 question, you'll find that it's only an academic topic and a definition. Definitions are cold. They don't say much about the human relationship to the topic or how the topic works in the real world. So, for task 4, the lecturer's job is to make a cold definition into something students can better understand.
"We learn through struggle, not through comfort."
As the tasks get more difficult, it's important not to lose focus. Many students start to feel overwhelmed by all this information. Take your time. Everyone has to go at their own pace. Don't move on to task 5 until you feel comfortable with the previous four tasks. Once you're ready, watch this short introduction where I guide you through a real speaking task 5 TOEFL example in real time.
"When you listen on the TOEFL exam, make your world your notes."
I'll begin this lesson by delving into the importance of structured notes. The listening passage in task #5 has a very specific structure and your notes must reflect that structure. You'll listen to a conversation between a man and a woman, one speaker is going to have a problem and the other speaker is going to offer at least one, but probably two suggestions. Besides structure, you'll also learn about tone of voice and transition words.
"They're testing to see if you can present knowledge in a logical manner."
Wait, remember, this integrated task is different than all other integrated tasks. Unlike tasks 3, 4 and 6, in task 5 you have to report what you heard and give your personal opinion. So, before you watch this lecture, go back to the first lecture of task 5 and try to respond to the question again before you hear me recite the ideal version and offer some last minute advice.
"You're watching these lectures because you're not confident speaking English, but this is just the first step. The only way to get better is to listen to and assess your own speaking."
Remember, for these self-assessments you need to give yourself a score on a scale from one to ten. If you give yourself a score above an eight then you're doing well. If you give yourself a score between a five and an eight then you need a little bit of work. If you score yourself less than a five, then you need to work hard on that particular criteria. After you assess yourself, go back and try to respond to the same question again. You learn more by doing one example ten times than doing ten examples once.
"Analogies give you a different perspective, which, in turn, provide a clearer idea of how something works."
In this analogy I'll compare task 5 to a situation you're probably familiar with: helping a friend in trouble. We can all think of at least one instance where we went to a friend or a friend came to us with a problem. What did you do? How did you sound? What was your tone of voice? Think of task 5 in terms of one friend helping another.
"This test is less about what you know and more about understanding the structure of how knowledge is presented in American culture."
In American academic culture, knowledge must be presented in a certain way. In speaking task 6 of the TOEFL exam, the lecturer must follow a logical structure that aligns with American values. In this lesson, you'll be exposed to a real TOEFL task 6 question. Try to answer the best you can and don't forget to record yourself. When you complete this section, task 6, go back to the recording and assess yourself.
"Don't forget to record, listen and assess yourself. You should only watch these videos after you try it on your own."
Here, we'll go through each step of how knowledge is presented in American academia. First, the lecturer will provide a definition and some background information about a particular topic, after that, the professor we'll discuss two sub-topics or examples that'll help illustrate the topic and make it more understandable. You'll also learn about popular transition words that'll help you listen to the passage and succeed on the TOEFL speaking section.
"You have to take notes. It's not an option."
Speaking task 6 is tough because you only listen to a lecture and report on information from the lecture. There's no reading to prepare you for the listening and you can't include your opinion or any outside information. However, after this lecture, you'll feel more confident and competent the next time you practice a speaking task 6 question.
"It's hard to get to this point. If you've gone this far you should give yourself a pat on the back, you've come a long, long way."
As you can see, I put a lot of thought and effort into the book and this course. It took me three years of teaching and over a year of planning and working until I completed everything, so don't expect English fluency to happen overnight. It takes sustained, focused work over a long period of time to improve. One way to achieve your fluency goals is to continually assess yourself. Use these self-assessments and watch your English speaking skills grow.
"Knowledge is presented in a logical and systematic way."
In this lesson we use an analogy once again to make a passage of the TOEFL more relatable. Think about this: How do you explain something to someone who knows nothing about the topic? We Americans have a specific and systematic way of explaining difficult topics. Once you realize how new information is presented, you'll have an easier time following the lecture portion of task 6.
"Rome wasn't built in a day."
In this lecture, I go over some of the most frequently asked questions I get from students. I'll start by guiding you through the process of gradually reducing your preparation time until you can respond to any independent speaking question in 15 seconds. Also, if you have trouble speaking for 45 seconds, in other words, your responses are too short, I'll walk you through a few pieces of advice I offer to students who need help expanding their answers.
"Personal examples are powerful. They're very hard to argue against."
In this second part of the independent speaking FAQ, I begin by discussing the importance of including a personal example in your independent speaking response. After that, I delve into topics like recording your voice, overcoming shyness and making sure you speak at an appropriate speed. At the end of the video, you'll know more about common struggles for TOEFL test takers and how to overcome them in order to succeed.
Also, here's a link to a great site with a ton of TOEFL material:
"Language is an imperfect thing, so don't try to make it perfect."
This integrated speaking FAQ is designed to address common questions I've had from TOEFL students throughout my teaching career. In this video, you'll find the answer to two crucial questions: "When I mess up, should I repeat myself?" and "What do you mean when you say 'don't self-judge'?"
"There's a huge difference between understanding information and retaining information."
In this task, I begin by reiterating the importance of recording yourself. When you record yourself, you hear what other people hear, not what you want to hear. After that, you'll learn, again, how important it is to participate in the quizzes and self-assessments throughout the book. Eventually, I move on to verb tense and automaticity.
"Information goes deeper in your mind when you're physically connected to it."
This is a special activity that isn't included in the book. I discovered this powerful exercise after I had finished the book. Here, you'll learn about the power of writing your response out before you speak, but, you can't read your writing. Want to know more? Watch the video.
"Don't do a different question everyday. Instead, pick a couple of questions you want to perfect."
This is a comprehensive list of over 150 real TOEFL independent speaking questions that have been on previous exams. I've taken the time and effort to separate these questions into different themes and categories. Once you see how I've grouped these questions, you should have a more intimate understanding of the reoccurring themes in the speaking section.
"If you know what you value, you'll naturally become a more confident speaker."
This is one of the most useful videos in the entire series. In this video, I discuss the importance of identifying your personal values before you take the TOEFL exam. If you know your values, you will be much more confident in many aspects of your life, not just speaking English. I created this example list based on certain reoccurring themes in the TOEFL independent questions and, coincidentally, the example list aligns with the idea of identifying your values. Complete this example list and improve your self-confidence.
A link I recommend:
"You must become emotionally connected with what you're saying."
In this very important lecture I describe the importance of being emotionally connected to your words. Don't speak like a robot. Many of my students memorize what they're supposed to say and recite it without any feeling. If you sound unnatural, you won't earn a high score in the TOEFL speaking section. In this lecture, you'll learn more about the importance of emotional connection and how you can improve your English.
"Don't let your conversations turn into interrogations."
Most students in an English as a Second Language class sit around and wait for the teacher to ask them a question. Real life doesn't work that way. You can't just sit around and wait for someone to ask you a bunch of questions. You need to get out of your English language class mindset and turn your interaction in English to native-like conversations.
"If you want to know more about a culture, look at its advertising."
This is one of the last videos in the course and probably the most controversial. In this lecture, you'll see me outline a list of generalizations about American culture. This is NOT a complete list of everything you need to know about American culture. Instead, this is about how American culture influences the TOEFL and how American cultural values are reflected within the structure of the exam. Once you learn about these values, you'll have the information you need to prepare answers that align with American expectations. And again, these are just generalizations, not every American will share all of these values.
Josh MacPherson is the Academic Coordinator of the Intensive English and TOEFL programs at a community college in midtown Manhattan. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and a master’s degree in ESL Curriculum and Instruction. Over the past ten years Josh has taught English, American History and TOEFL test prep in New York, Korea and Japan. In his free time, he utilizes the same advice he gives to his students to study Japanese. If you’d like to learn more about Josh and his methodology, you can learn more about him at Vocabulary Ninja.