TOEFL prep--speaking vs listening

There's no question that speaking is more difficult than listening. When you listen to a language you don't know well, you can pick out words you know, or use the speaker's intonation to INFER the meaning of the entire sentence or group of words.

INFER means "an educated guess." You infer when make an assumption based on incomplete knowledge or evidence.

Examples of inferring:
  • if a person is stopped by a policeman while driving erratically, and he sees empty beer bottles in the care, he may infer that the person is drunk!
  • if you see your friend Jana at the shopping center, and the next day she wears a new coat to school, you may infer that she bought it at the shopping center.
  • if your teacher asks the class to hand in their homework, and you don't remember having any homework, you may infer that you weren't listening closely in class the day before.
You make inferences every day. Many are based on words that you hear; many are based on things that you see. When you listen, you pick out the words you know, put them together with any other clues such as tone of voice, level of excitement in the voice, and nearby words, to make meaning.

This is what a child does: the mother says, "No, you may not have a cookie because it's almost dinner time and you'll spoil your appetite." The child hears "no....cookie" and starts to cry, without understanding the entire sentence.

When you speak, however, you must choose every word you say. You must put the words in the correct order, pronounce them correctly, and listen as you speak to be sure that you're spoken in such a way that your meaning is clear. 

Speaking is difficult , even in your native language. People use filler words like "uuh," "well," "you know," and "so" to fill in the gaps of their speaking and let the listener know they're not yet finished. Sometimes people hear their own words and say, "No, that's not what I mean."

On the TOEFL speaking section, you are required to speak extemporaneously (with little or no preparation) on topics that are familiar and unfamiliar. There are three kinds of speaking tasks:
1. talking about something familiar to you, without any other information
2. reading, listening and then commenting on what you read and heard
3. listening and commenting to what you heard

These are tasks that you need to practice every day. Don't be too timid to speak to native speakers, fearing that they will laugh at you. Talk about topics you are not so familiar with, forcing yourself to learn new vocabulary. Read something and then discuss it with your classmates. You will gain confidence in your abilities and gain practice with speaking fluently. You may also make some new friends!


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