Start by watching this video from the BBC. This will explain the basics of what we call “discourse markers”. The video deals with the most common discourse markers that we use every day. Here’s an example:
actually: I’m going to give you some surprising information or I’m going to correct some information.
Actually, it was a complete disaster!
In this blog post, we are going to look at more subtle and sophisticated use of discourse markers. We are going to look at four of the type of discourse marker you need to use if you are aiming for higher IELTS band score.
What are 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.
Before we do so, however, let’s look at how you are expected to perform at different IELTS Speaking bands.
(You will notice that the marking criteria refer both to “discourse markers” and to “cohesive features”. Discourse markers are cohesive features which enable 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.
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.
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 feel 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.
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.
Discourse markers are, of course, also an important feature of IELTS Writing. Read this page giving advice on the use of discourse markers in academic writing — the sort of writing you should know to produce for the IELTS Academic Writing test. Click here.
If you feel you need further practice in this area, whether for IELTS Speaking or IELTS Writing, click into IELTSpractice.com and try some of the activities in the Free Version of the British Council’s Road to IELTS..