To get: free TOEFL Tips Emails, then Become a Free Member

TOEFL Tip #219: Speakers are Surfers, Not Architects

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 13, 2015

Again, we’re posting an article about the Speaking section of the test. Why so many Speaking tips? Because people struggle with it the most, especially when they are trying to get a 26, which is the TOEFL score required by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).  So today, let’s talk about how to prepare your answers.

Very simply put: DON’T.

Don’t prepare at all.

Why?  Because TOEFL is grading you–in large part–on how fluid and natural your response is. And any script, any “prepared” response, will lack that natural fluidity. Think about it this way: when you’re out to dinner with your friends, and one of them asks, “Hey, where are you thinking of taking a vacation this year?”, you certainly do not respond with, “Can you give me 15 seconds to prepare my answer.” And, of course, you do not–after your 15 seconds–begin to reply to your friend with, “I would like to go to Turkey for two reasons: one, it is cheap; two, it is exotic. First of all,  . . . . ”  Such a response would be ridiculous.  TOEFL is testing your ability to talk in the REAL WORLD. It’s a test to prove that you are ready to go to a REAL university, or get a REAL job, all of which happen in the REAL world. Therefore, you have to present the TOEFL Rater with REAL English.

REAL English is spontaneous and organic, it “grows” before your very eyes. This doesn’t mean that it’s left unattended. Yes, you must listen to your English AS YOU GENERATE IT to hear if you’re making any errors. Or you have to think about what you’re going to say MILLISECONDS before the words come out of your mouth. It’s like talking in front of a 4 year old. You might be on the verge of saying a “dirty word” but when you see the child out of the corner of your eye, you catch yourself and change the phrase from “pain in the *ss” to “pain in the neck”.  We do this all the time when we speak in the REAL world.  Similarly, you have to be this flexible and “aware” of your TOEFL English. Think MILLISECONDS before you talk, not 15 seconds before you talk.

This is why Strictly English likes to compare speaking on the TOEFL the right way to surfing and speaking on the TOEFL the wrong way to architecture.  Architects have to plan their buildings for years. They draw up blueprints. Rip those blueprints up. And make new blueprints over and over until they “get it right”.  And, granted, some English is like architecture: a college writing assignment, for example. But that’s not what the TOEFL Speaking section is looking for.

REAL English is as spontaneous as a surfer on the ocean. A surfer has to respond IN THE MOMENT to the conditions around her. The wind, the waves, the other surfers beside her. And when a surfer falls off her board, WHICH IS INEVITABLE, she doesn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean and die a watery death. NO!  She gets back on the board and continues surfing! Likewise, “falling down” when talking on the TOEFL is not the death of you. Errors are part of REAL speech; the important part is to pick yourself up and keep surfing!