One criteria of the IELTS Speaking test is fluency and coherence. To assess this, your examiners will look for words and phrases called discourse markers. This blog post will explain what they are and how to use them to get a higher IELTS Speaking score.
What are discourse markers?
In simple terms, 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.
Take this example: “Our class will go hiking today. By the way, that was not my idea.”
Even without the phrase ‘By the way’, the two sentences still make sense. However, using this phrase, or a different discourse marker, lets others know that the second sentence is providing extra information. They will also make your speech sound more fluent. Knowing where and how to use these shows your examiner you have a higher level of fluency and coherence.
Many learners know the importance of using discourse markers. Not many of them, however, realize that most of these markers also reveal different underlying attitudes. Let’s look at four common discourse markers used to introduce opinions and try to clarify the attitudes behind them.
1. In my opinion
It’s clear that this phrase is used to introduce your opinion, but it also implies that you know or expect other people will disagree with you.
Imagine saying this 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:
Imagine you are talking to your friend in a bookstore:
In my opinion, Macbeth is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Hamlet may be more famous but it’s not as interesting.
2. To be honest
It’s easy to think that “to be honest” only means the speaker wants to emphasize she isn’t lying. But there’s more to this phrase. 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.
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 more chocolate than I should every day.
The first example suggests the author is honestly trying to say their favourite snack is chocolate. 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.
3. 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.
Here is a conversation between two co-workers:
Did you see John’s presentation? He looked really unprepared.
Frankly speaking, I don’t think he’s qualified for the job.
4. 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 isn’t universal, or it may not matter much.
Let’s say you are 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!
Or you are discussing music with a friend:
As far as I’m concerned, Abbey Road is the Beatles’ best album.
If you want to know more about how discourse markers can affect your score, look at the marking criteria for these IELTS Speaking bands.
- Band 5: “may over-use certain connectives and discourse markers”
- Band 6: “uses a range of connectives and discourse markers but not always appropriately”
- Band 7: “uses a range of connectives and discourse markers with
- Band 8: “develops topics coherently and appropriately”
- Band 9: “speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features”
You will notice that the marking criteria refer both to “discourse markers”’ and to “cohesive features”. Discourse markers are cohesive features which help the listener to follow what you are saying. So at every level, being able to use discourse markers correctly will influence the band score you achieve.
If you want more explanation on what discourse markers are and how to use them take a look at this video from the BBC. The video deals with the most common discourse markers that we use every day.
Otherwise, for more tips on the IELTS Speaking test, take a look at the new features in the Road to IELTS Speaking update here. In the program, you can work on developing your vocabulary — including your knowledge of discourse markers. If you want some more practice, head to the IELTS Practice page, here, to try some free activities.