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IELTS Speaking: Opinionated discourse markers

Discourse markers

A very important part of the fluency and coherence assessed in the IELTS speaking test are words and phrases called discourse markers. The term may sound complicated but the idea is simple: discourse markers are words and phrases we use to move through conversations, going from one idea to the next, to introduce new topics or return to old ones.

Many learners know it’s important to use discourse markers but don’t realize that most of these markers also reveal different underlying attitudes toward the new idea. Let’s look at four common discourse markers used to introduce opinions and try to clarify the attitudes behind them.

In my opinion

It’s clear that this phrase is used to introduce your opinion, but you can’t forget it also implies that you know or expect other people will disagree with you.

At the dinner table:
In my opinion, keeping a healthy diet is an important way to keep fit.

But who’s going to disagree with such a statement? Here’s an example of the phrase used more appropriately:

In a bookstore:
In my opinion, Macbeth is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Hamlet may be more famous but it’s not as interesting.

To be honest

It’s easy to see that ‘to be honest’ means that the speaker wants to emphasize she isn’t lying, but there’s more to this phrase than just that; we emphasize our honesty with this phrase when we are in situations where we might actually prefer not to be honest, often because we feel a bit embarrassed.

I’ve been teaching English for ten years, but, to be honest, I sometimes forget how to spell simple words.

The context we can understand from the first part of this sentence why the speaker would feel embarrassed by this. Compare the two examples below.

Chocolate has such a sweet taste and creamy texture. To be honest, it’s my favorite snack.
Chocolate has such a sweet taste and creamy texture. To be honest, I eat chocolate every day.

The first example is not exactly logical — since most people like chocolate there’s no reason for the speaker to be embarrassed that it is her favourite food. The second example, however, is more sophisticated: There’s nothing that shows us why the speaker is embarrassed, but she assumes her listener also believes that it’s not particularly healthy to eat chocolate every day. That shared belief supposedly makes her embarrassment reasonable and the use of the phrase more appropriate.

Frankly speaking

Like ‘To be honest,’ this phrase emphasizes that you are telling the truth, but you need to remember that it also indicates that even though you are talking about something sensitive, you’re willing to speak directly and honestly about it.

Two co-workers in an office:

Did you see John’s presentation? He looked really unprepared.

Frankly speaking, I don’t think he’s qualified for the job.

As far as I’m concerned

This phrase is similar to ‘In my opinion.’ We use it to introduce an opinion but it also indicates that the speaker understands his opinion is only one of many factors involved in the situation. The phrase shows others that we know our opinion isn’t universal, or it may not matter much.

When angry at another driver:

He just cut in front of me! As far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive if you don’t know how to use a turn signal!

In a record store:

As far as I’m concerned, Abbey Road is the Beatles’ best album.

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