Terms to know:
Fluency: Speaking as a native speaker of English speaks the language. Most students for IELTS begin to “feel” fluency at a band 5.5 for speed of speech, but their coherence, grammar, and word choices are limited at this score.
Coherence: This means the student is able to stay on topic while speaking English, and the examiner understands the students responses without effort.
Memorized responses: This means the examiner asks a questions, such as “Talk about why you like your hometown.” The student responds to the topic generally, but the response is arguably off topic. An example: “My hometown is Ningbo. It is a port city with many boats and sea food. Many people like to live here because the people are friendly. . .”
The lack of specificity to the topic and the lack of using personal experiences to respond to topics are 2 signs of memorized responses.
The student is starting to speak in sentences with a little more fluidity (fluency). Although they are not able or comfortable speaking complex sentences, when they speak simple sentences, the ideas they speak are easy to understand:
“I go to store. I buy milk and my meal. I go home. I eat. I do my homework.”
The student struggles with verb tenses (past, present, and future) and makes many mistakes with word choice. In addition, they speak slow and it is obvious they are thinking (translating) as they speak.
The student lack coherence to the topic, in most cases, because they are spending so much time translating and using memorized responses. When he attempts to use a complex (sentence) structure, the sentence is usually faulty or spoken mechanically.
This student usually is not able to speak for the full 2 minutes during task 2. When they stop at about 1:30 seconds, they are noticeably tired.
Fluency begins here. The student is speaking a bit quicker but some or most of his responses sound memorized. The student is arguably coherent to the topic, but uses mostly memorized responses.
The student often goes off topic and some responses may sound memorized, but arguably, he comes back to the topic. This means coherence comes and goes.
He is noticeably limited with grammatical range and accuracy, including verb forms. If the student attempts to describe life experiences, past, present, and future tenses are confused enough that the examiner knows the student lack understanding of these language structures.
The student is able to speak for 2 full minutes during part 2, but at the end of the 2 minutes, the student may have forgotten the topic. This is often called rambling.
The student is now aware of grammatical range and accuracy, and his need to organize and stay on topic. Because of this awareness, he slows down and focus on these issues. Fluency (the rate of speaking) usually slows down at this band score. 2 reasons are common for the decreased speed: 1) the student is starting to connect emotionally with their ideas, 2) the student is focused grammatical structures (such as verb forms) and better word choices.
They are starting to transition away from test mode.
This is the level where they are transitioning from a “test taker” into a “language user.” Speed of speech is slow, but the listener is starting to enjoy how the student using English to express ideas.
The student’s speed of speech is increasing along with better word choices and grammatical accuracy. He is relaxing more and enjoying using the language. The student often will “feel” this improvement.
Phrases such as “This is getting easy,” are often spoken by these students when they reach this level.
When a listener, such as a teacher or friend, has watched the student develop, this is the stage where the listener will notice the student’s body language change.
The student is still making mistakes with grammar, especially verb forms, but when he is focused on specific grammar points, such as remaining in the past and using past tense verbs to tell a story, more emotions come to the student.