IELTS Speaking Storytelling
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People have told stories since the dawn of time and some would say that it is precisely what makes us human. Yet it is easy to forget that the capacity lies within all of us, and doubly so when we are speaking a foreign language or sitting an important exam.

When it comes to IELTS speaking, we don’t usually think about storytelling. Instead, people think about showing off their language skills or answering a question directly. However, storytelling is a skill that could prove really useful if you want to get a high IELTS band score.

Why is Storytelling Useful for IELTS Speaking?

In IELTS speaking, candidates usually listen to a question and then give an answer that directly addresses it. This is perfectly reasonable, but often it leads to boring or unnatural answers that only fulfill the marking criteria in a basic way.

Storytelling gives us a chance for a higher IELTS band score because it allows for a more natural and developed response. It allows us to use that natural human capacity for spinning yarn by starting at the beginning, showing development, description, and presenting important details, before finally coming to a satisfying conclusion.

Think of the poor examiner, sitting there all day listening to the same responses… It is not an interesting life. Then along comes a candidate with a fascinating story – what a relief! The examiner will listen in delight and feel far more positive about the answer.

Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but storytelling really can help you in IELTS speaking, and I will show you how.

Start at the Beginning

Stories follow natural, intuitive structures and all humans have the innate capacity to enjoy them and even tell them. However, when we learn another language we often fall into the trap of producing dull, repetitive answers based upon memorised chunks of language.

Think about IELTS speaking part two. The examiner will tell you to describe a person, a place, a memory, or something else. Most candidates start in the same way: “Today, I want to talk about…” It is incredibly dull. Your answer will sound just like everyone else’s… and they will not sound at all like a native speaker would talk.

This is true for the other parts. Candidates are taught to listen and paraphrase the examiner’s question, but this leads to uninspired answers that contain nothing original. Instead, think about a story and tell it. Stories start by setting the scene, introducing the characters, and giving background. After that, the progress logically.

Some natural beginnings are:

  • I used to know a person who…
  • A couple of years ago, I was working at…
  • I remember this really interesting place…

These are far more natural than the usual memorised introductions.

Stories Inspire Emotion and Give Detail

IELTS speaking is not the most exciting of tests for anyone. It may be stressful, but it is certainly not fun or interesting. Yet this is a problem that many candidates exacerbate by giving dull answers in a monotonous voice. They speak like robots, often with their chin to their chest, eyes on the table, mumbling words in the same one tone.

Storytelling allows you to break free from that trap and give interesting, funny, or exciting stories that allow you to speak more naturally. By telling a better story, you can give a better answer. This is because your enthusiasm and emotion can come through the story and permeate your voice.

Instead of giving the basic facts according to the cue card, you can start at the beginning of a story by introducing the people and places involved, then spinning the story naturally in a chronological way, leading the examiner towards the end. Your voice can rise and fall with the story, conveying ideas of joy or sadness, excitement or compassion.

All of this will drastically help you to improve your IELTS band score by making your fluency and pronunciation better.

Stories Follow Patterns

One of the problems facing candidates in parts two and three of the IELTS speaking test is the structure of their answer – or, more specifically, the lack of structure. This is understandable because exams can be stressful and the questions are often quite difficult.

For part two, you might be tempted to simply give an answer that covers the ideas on the cue card, which is a reasonable approach. However, perhaps it is better to tell a story. The reason here is that you can follow a natural pattern because that’s how stories work. Instead of simply relating facts that are stated on the cue card, you can follow the natural progression of the story. This will make it much easier to talk for two minutes. Trust yourself and let your memory or imagination guide you.

For part three, it works in the same way, although the questions are a bit different and more abstract. Instead of thinking simply about giving a direct answer, you can develop an idea like a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. This makes it easier to speak at length with a high degree of fluency.

Provide a Conclusion

When we think of IELTS and conclusions, we probably think about the writing test, but actually, you can give a conclusion in the speaking exam too. It would be looser and more informal, but it is a good idea. If you just speak and then suddenly stop, it might sound strange and could certainly cause you problems with your fluency score.

Stories typically draw to a natural conclusion by reaching a logical ending. We hardly think about it because it’s just how our minds already work. If you tell stories in IELTS, it will be the same. You won’t need to worry about suddenly running out of things to say because your mind will bring it to a natural conclusion.

This will be more satisfying and will give positive signals to your examiner. Ultimately, your answer will be better structured and more fluid, letting you concentrate on increasing your accuracy in terms of vocabulary and grammar.

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