How Small Talk Can Make A Big Difference For TOEFL Speaking And Listening Section Scores

 
 

13 Useful Small Talk Transitions To Look for on the TOEFL

Speaking and listening go hand-in-hand, something that all language learners and teachers can tell you.  Too often, though, students don’t realize that the same holds true when it comes to the TOEFL test.  Frequently students tend to study skills in a bit of a vacuum, isolating one language skill from another unless they are practicing an integrated question, ETS’s term for questions that involve multiple skills. But because the listening section features a lot of informal phrases, the same that are used in everyday conversation, participating in daily conversation with your classmates and teachers could make you more ready for the TOEFL as well as for life post-test. 

So what should you talk about? The possibilities are nearly endless (eventually). Of course, it is important to know your audience, meaning you want to avoid topics Americans consider taboo if chatting with someone in the US. In other words, don't bring up religion,  only, or politics as many people in the States would find this rude. Americans love to start by talking about the weather, light-hearted (non-controversial) stories from the news, sports (especially local teams or big games like the World Series) or general plans for the upcoming weekend or vacation/break.

How does this help you on the TOEFL? It isn't likely that you'll hear a full conversation of small talk. 

A frequently overlooked skill is the ability to transition from small talk to what you actually want to speak about.  While we often associate transitions with writing, they are just as important and useful in speaking.  This is even more true given that Americans expect small talk before actually discussing the reason for the meeting or appointment.  In fact, most people would consider it rude to skip the small talk.  So, how do we get from small talk to what you actually want to discuss that day?  By using transitions--the same transitions that you might hear in a conversation on the TOEFL when a student goes to see his/her professor during office hours, begins by being polite, and then gets to why he/she actually stopped by.

Here are some key transitions that native speakers use that you can use as well when you want to move from small talk to the real reason for why you started up a discussion or if you just want to change the topic of conversation for whatever reason.

By the way…
That reminds me of…
Speaking of…
Before I forget…
Oh, while I remember…
I just thought of something.
Oh, there’s something else I wanted to say/ask you.
This has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but…
Changing the subject for a minute…
That’s funny, because something similar…
      (note, it does not actually have to be funny.  This is more used like “That’s interesting because I had a similar situation”)
Incidentally, 
I know this isn’t really what we are talking about, but…
I know this is changing the subject, but…

Using these phrases during the course of your regular routine will help you recognize these phrases when they come up on the listening section (or integrated speaking question 3 and 5); as an added benefit, if you are using them regularly, that means you are speaking regularly, gaining extra practice in pronunciation, pacing, and word choice along the way.

 

Get all the phrases you need and a recap of all the topics to discuss (or to avoid) in a convenient one page printable that you can take with you wherever you go.

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