Functional Language: Expressions for Speaking

25 Jan 2018
Functional Language: Expressions for Speaking

If you’re reading this, you’re probably getting ready to take the IELTS. Well done! This post will help you to prepare for the IELTS Speaking module by learning about useful language you can use when answering questions in the Speaking section. Although it’s a very bad idea to memorize scripted answers, you can learn and practice phrases to talk about a variety of common topics you might be asked about on your Speaking exam.

Introducing personal experiences

Talking about your experiences on a number of different topics is what Speaking Part 1 is all about. Speaking Part 2 will also be based on your personal experiences and feelings. While you should find Part 1 questions easy to answer, one thing you shouldn’t do is start every sentence the same way. Here are some phrases you can use to vary your language when introducing personal experiences:

  • In my experience…
  • I remember when…
  • What happened was…
  • One time (when)…
  • Back when I was…

Expressing personal opinion

Just as with introducing personal experiences, you should vary your language when giving your opinion on a subject, instead of only using the phrase ‘I think’ over and over. Some alternatives you can use when giving your opinion include the following:

  • Speaking for myself…
  • Personally…
  • In my view…
  • For me…
  • As I see it…
  • As far as I’m concerned…

If you feel very strongly about the topic in question you can use the following phrases:

  • I’m sure that…
  • I’m convinced that…
  • I’m certain that…
  • There’s no way…

Speculating and expressing possibility

In Parts 2 and 3 of the Speaking exam, the examiner may directly ask you to imagine a different situation to the one you’re in or to talk about the future and consider possibilities. Speculating (talking about something you’re not sure about) is an approach that you can try when faced with these type of questions or whenever you consider appropriate. Speculating can help you to give a more elaborate response, even when you have no experience or strong views on the topic. For this, you can use phrases such as the following:

  • I suppose…
  • It’s possible…
  • I would imagine that…
  • I’d say…
  • Perhaps…
  • I think it’s likely/unlikely

Agreeing and disagreeing

In Speaking Part 3 you’ll have a chance to discuss the topic from Part 2 in more detail. You’ll be asked to give your opinion and will be invited to agree or disagree. This is a great opportunity to show off your conversational skills within the context of a discussion. Let’s look at some of the phrases you can use to agree and disagree:

Expressing agreement

  • I totally agree.
  • I couldn’t agree with you more.
  • You’re absolutely right.
  • No doubt about it.
  • Definitely / Absolutely / Precisely

Expressing disagreement

  • I’m afraid I disagree.
  • I see your point, but…
  • That’s not always true.
  • Not necessarily.
  • That’s one way of looking at it. However…

Comparing and Contrasting

Throughout the IELTS Speaking exam, you will also be asked questions that will require you to compare experiences, people, places or things. For this, it’s important that you know how to use comparative structures well (e.g. bigger than, more interesting than, worse than).  If you’re comfortable using this language and want to go one step further, try using adverbs to be more specific in your descriptions (e.g. slightly more expensive than, much better than, significantly lower than). There are also expressions you can use to compare and contrast:

Explaining small differences or no difference

  • similar to

‘My daughter is very similar to her dad in many ways.’

  • much the same

‘I think both towns are much the same.’

  • same + noun + as

‘My best friend is the same age as me.’

  • as + adjective + as

‘To me, reading a book is as fun as watching a movie.’

Explaining big differences

  • no comparison

‘There’s no comparison. Driving is much faster than biking.’


  • in contrast to

‘Brazilians are very talkative in contrast to Germans, who are usually very quiet.’

  • compared to

‘Doctors make a lot of money compared to nurses.’

Asking for clarification

Last but not least, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to ask the examiner for clarification if you don’t understand a question on the Speaking exam. For this, you can use phrases or questions such as the following:

  • Sorry, I didn’t get the question.
  • Sorry, I’m afraid I didn’t catch that.
  • Could you repeat the question, please?
  • Could you say that again?

In Part 3, you can also ask the examiner to rephrase a question if necessary:

  • Could you explain what you mean by..?
  • Could you explain the question, please?
  • Sorry, could you rephrase that?


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