Speaking Archives - EngExam.info

5 Common Speaking Mistakes

speaking mistakes

There is nothing easier than going wrong with the Speaking section of your exam. There are many speaking mistakes that are too easy to make. Know these simple pitfalls to avoid them and ensure good score for your IELTS/TOEFL/CAE exam.

Answering the Wrong Question

It may sound silly, but this is a common mistake. Make sure you understand the question. Ask your examiner to repeat it if you are unsure what exactly you are supposed to say. It is not going to affect your score in any way. If you still fail to get the meaning, ask to rephrase. If your answer will have nothing to do with the question then it won’t be scored at all.

Memorising the Answer

OK, this isn’t new, we’ve all done that. This time it isn’t going to work because a memorised answer is easily spotted by a professional examiner. Instead of rote-learning the whole answer try to remember some basic phrases and constructions for each possible topic. An honest answer will be much better than a learned one.

Drinking for Confidence

This isn’t going to work. You will think slower, feel out of place. Not to mention you will smell of alcohol — your examiner won’t be too happy to have you. If you absolutely have to take the pressure off — have some green tea before the exam. Mint works good too. Don’t overdo it — you can get your thinking process slowed down by drinking too much.
Alternatively, try some of these techniques to get your cognitive abilities in shape.

Short Answer

The whole idea of Speaking part of exam is to showcase your language. Some tend to forget this, responding to every other questions with only a couple of words. Remember: your answer has to be detailed. As long as it is relevant to the topic — it’s good. If you start going over the time limit the examiner will let you know. If you are unsure what to say, then make something up. Your words don’t have to be one hundred percent truth.

Spontaneous Answer

Certain tasks give you preparation time (i.e. IELTS Speaking Task 2 — the card question). Some choose to keep all the bullet points of the answer in their head. While this is acceptable, it isn’t the optimal technique. You are much better to write the crucial information down: the beginnings of sentences, some words and phrases that you think you should use and so forth. Don’t be lazy – some writing can make your answer much more structured and cohesive.

Articles in English


Today we cover the basic rules of using articles in English as well as the more advanced and less known cases of English articles. All the rules and exceptions come with example sentences. Just like English prepositions, articles are essential for a good IELTS/CAE score. You can take a test to check your knowledge of this tricky aspect of English Grammar. The test can be taken online, printed or downloaded as PDF.

1. Basic Rules
– The Definite Article
– The Indefinite Article
– Zero/No Article
2. Advanced Cases
– The Definite Article
– The Indefinite Article
– Zero/ No Article
3. Articles in Phrases
4. Brief Summary
5. Afterword.

Basic Rules

The first ground rule of English articles is simple – a noun in the singular form normally takes either a definite (the) or an indefinite (a/an) article. This sounds obvious and quite simple, but you have no idea how often ESL students forget about it. Knowing and using this basic rule would make their speech and writing much cleaner and more coherent.

Okay then, so how do we know which article should be used? Below is a set of basic, well-known rules. As a CAE or IELTS taker you must be familiar with them already, but it never hurts to go over them one more time.

The Definite Article

  1. The most common case when we use the definite article is referring to something that has been mentioned previously:
    Remember the car we talked about yesterday? Jim has just bought it!
    I saw a dog chasing some cats down the alley. The dog had no collar on.
  2. Use the definite article when it’s from context what exact thing or person you talk about or when you specify to make it clear:
    The building over there is about two hundred years old!
    The woman who you met at the office yesterday is my wife.


The Indefinite Article

  1. We use the indefinite article when we mention something for the first time. However, if we talk about the same thing or person again, it should take the definite article:
    Yesterday I saw a man and a woman shopping together. The man bought a hat and the woman bought a dress. Both the dress and the hat seemed inexpensive, but stylish.
  2. The indefinite article is used when we don’t want to or don’t have to be specific. In terms of meaning, it can be substituted by ‘any’:
    I am going to move out from my parents so I’m currently looking for an apartment.
    You should buy a bicycle to make your commute more pleasant.
  3. Use the indefinite article to mean ‘one’:
    Let’s have a beer or two tonight!
    Add a pinch of salt to your salad if you feel that it’s taste is too bland.


Zero/No Article

  1. No article is normally required when referring to uncountable nouns (unless you mean to point out some certain object):
    Excessive consumption of sugar can be bad for your health.
    I don’t really drink coffee anymore
    A cup of coffee; A glass of milk; A bucket full of sand.
    Here the article refers to the nouns ‘cup’, ‘glass’ and ‘bucket’.
    The sugar that you ordered has arrived.
    Here we are talking some particular sugar.
  2. No article is needed with proper names (obviously):
    John and George are twin brothers.
    We didn’t know that Nathan has divorced recently.
    (also, see Case #3 in the indefinite article section)


Naturally there are certain exceptions from those rules. They are illustrated in the next section of this entry.

The definite articles usually implies a certain object. For instance, if you say “The car is parked just around the corner”, then a question arises “What car?”. If you are unable to answer this question, then you probably don’t need the definite article.

If you still do not know which article should be used in any given situation, you can substitute it for a personal pronoun. It is not a good practice, but it works grammar-wise.

Other Cases of Article Usage

This section covers the more advanced aspects of articles in English: individual cases, exceptions and much more. Don’t forget that basic rules can be applied to most of them where appropriate (e.g. play the piano BUT buy a piano) If you don’t feel like reading through the whole thing, just go to summary for the shorter version of it.

1. The Definite Article

  1. Geographical names. Probably the most sizeable part of English articles grammar.
    – Names of seas, oceans and rivers (BUT not lakes):
    The Black Sea; The Mediterranean; The Pacific Ocean; The Danube (BUT Lake Victoria)
    – Groups of mountains (BUT not individual mountains or peaks):
    The Rockies, The Pyrenees, The Himalayas (BUT Ararat, Denali, Mount Elbert)- Names of countries that imply plurality:
    The United Kingdom, The USA, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic (and also The Congo, The Gambia, The Lebanon)
    – Unique geographical features:
    The Channel, The Antarctic
    – Compass points and geographical areas:
    She lives in the North; There is some trouble in the Middle East; The West strongly opposes the proposed changes.
  2. Nations and groups of people:
    The Americans, The Brazilians; The Christians, The Republicans
    However, with institutions and people who work there the situation is the opposite (the police – force; police – people)
  3. Unique objects and positions (titles):
    The moon orbits the earth; The President gave a speech about the current political climate; She is the CEO of our company; The ozone layer is growing thin; The Winter War was a conflict between Russia and Finland; The past; The future; The countryside;
  4. Names of newspapers:
    The Guardian, The Sun, The Sunday Times
    BUT names of magazines normally take no article, even if there is no word ‘magazine’ in the title:
    Time Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Glamour
  5. To emphasise the meaning, to make it stronger or more convincing. In speech, additional intonational stress is put on the definite article:
    Disneyland is the place to go if you want to spend a great weekend with your kids.
    Charles is the man for the job – he knows all ins and outs of this business.
  6. ‘… of …’ structures:
    The University of Manchester; The Tower of London; The Cape of Good Hope
    However, if we do not use ‘… of …’ structure, then zero article rule should be used:
    Manchester University; Cape Cod;
  7. Musical instruments:
    I wish I could play the piano. My father used to play the guitar a lot when he was younger.
  8. Classes of species:
    The tiger is one of the biggest cats in existence. The hippo is the most dangerous animal to humans.
  9. Ordinal number:
    The first time I saw him was in Japan back in 1995
  10. Superlative degrees of adjective:
    The most exciting thing about birthday parties is the presents. The best way to spend your time here is to see the countryside.


2. The Indefinite Article

  1. Jobs, occupations and vocations:
    My father is a doctor
    She is training to become an electrician
  2. To talk about rates or measuring:
    $8 a kilo; 60 miles an hour; twice a week
  3. To emphasise that you do not know the person:
    A Mr Hopkins dropped by yesterday and aksed to give this note to you.
  4. In a set phrase with ‘many a …’, which means ‘a great deal of, a large number of something or someone’:
    Many a politician became corrupt; Many a man were killed in that war.


3. Zero/No Article

  1. Schools, Prisons, Universities, Hospitals, Churches and all other institutions when we talk about their function.
    I’m not coming to school today – I think I’ve got the flu.
    He’s going to spend five years in prison for an armed robbery. However, if we mean the building and not the function, we use the definite article:
    I couldn’t park at the church so I had to circle around the block for twenty minutes.
    I’m going to the prison to visit uncle Joey.
  2. Illnesses, diseases and other medical conditions:
    Last year he was diagnosed with cancer; Arthritis can be very difficult to live with
    There are some exceptions, most notable are the flu and the measles.
  3. Names of streets, roads and avenues:
    Go down Hastings street, turn left at the next intersection. However, ‘-way’ words (highway, expressway etc) can be used with the definite article:
    The motorway goes all the way to the North of the country; I’m on the highway to hell


Articles in Phrases

A collection of rules for articles in set phrases and expressions, without any grouping.

  • In the morning/afternoon/evening, BUT At night
  • Few – not enough of something, less than the desirable amount:
    Few people came to my birthday
    A few – some, a small amount (without the meaning of ‘not enough’)
    I had a few people over at my place last Sunday.
  • Most – making the generalisation to say ‘the majority, more than half’:
    Most people don’t know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.
    The most – talking about something specific in a superlative way:
    Richard is the most capable worker on the floor.


Brief Summary

  •  Use the Definite Article to talk about something you and your speaker knows about, something you clarify or describe, something that is unique, something that denotes a group or implies plurality (the democrats, the USA), any body of water (but not lakes), names of newspapers (but not magazines), musical instruments, for emphasis.
  • Use the Indefinite Article when you talk about no particular thing or it doesn’t matter which thing you mean, to mean ‘one’, to talk about professions, rates (five days a week).
  • No article is normally used with proper names, institutions (schools, prisons, hospitals (unless you mean the building, then use ‘the’), ilnesses (except for the flu and the measles)



It is important to understand that articles are there to help your listener or reader to better understand you. Articles make the language more cohesive – that is, they connect words within a phrase, a sentence, even a paragraph. If your native language doesn’t use articles, it will be difficult to use them properly at first, but as you grow more experienced and expose yourself to more spoken and written English, you become more proficient at using them.

Don’t be scared by all the rules and exceptions of English articles. Make sure to learn the basics and then slowly study the finer points of their usage. Learning everything at once can be overwhelming, and frankly speaking you don’t need to know ALL the rules to have good command of the language. It is however going to do you a world of good, especially in your Writing part of the exam.

Formal and Informal Vocabulary

formal and informal
This entry is about differences in vocabulary of formal and informal styles. For general differences, see this article.

Both formal and informal vocabulary can be found in all spheres of the language. As the language becomes more liberal, combining these two groups of words gets more common. Below is an example list of words and expressions in formal and informal registers.

What does ‘formal’ mean? Simply put, it means something or someone following established norms, traditions and habits. A formal letter should have certain structure and vocabulary, usually more official and strict. Think of formal as a rough synonym for ‘official’.

Vocabulary for letters

To ask for helpTo request assistance
To tell, to let knowTo inform, to notify
Speak toAddress smb.
Talk aboutDiscuss, consider
Fix, take care of, put rightRectify, amend
I think that …I believe/hold it that …
I want to …I wish to …
I’m ready to …I am willing to …
I’m angry about …I am dissatisfied with …
Deal with, take care ofManage, resolve, settle
Put up withTolerate, bear, endure
Bring upMention
Take awayRemove
ThanksI am grateful/thankful for …
I’m sorry about …I regret about …
I’m writing aboutI am writing regarding
I’ll get in touch …I will contact …
If you have any questionsShould you have any questions

General formal and informal vocabulary

AndAs well as …
So, in this mannerThus
If …Should … /Whether …
If … or notWhether … or not
For sureDefinitely/Assuredly/Certainly

It is recommended to stick to either formal or informal words whenever possible. In other words, don’t mix two registers. It is as important as consistency in using English and American spelling. However, using two registers in your speech is not a serious error. At least as far as your speech is concerned. You should nevertheless pay attention to your writing — if you can use a less colloquial expression in your formal letter then you should do so. Sometimes mixing can’t be helped — for example, using phrasal verbs in a text. Phrasal verbs give life to your writing, so you shouldn’t abstain from using them. But such things as contracted forms or slang words — they do not belong in a formal text. Some dictionaries have detailed entries on formal and informal register.

Which register should I use?

The degree of formality is usually decided by the following factors:

  • How well you know the person you’re writing to — the better you know the person, the less formal your writing will be (within reasonable limits)
  • The purpose of your letter — business correspondence tends to be more formal
  • The relative position of the person you’re writing to — a letter to your boss will be strictly formal. A letter to your subordinate is more likely to be semi-formal or fairly informal.

Use your judgement and common sense to decide on the register. For example, a letter to your boss who is much older than you, but whom you know very well is likely to be semi-formal, despite of his age and position. Conversely, if you are the head of department writing to a junior staff member whom you do not know, your letter should be on the formal side.


Bottom line is: if you are unsure whether to use formal or informal words, then stick to more respectable and tactful formal vocabulary. Nobody is going to hate you for being too formal. You will get a funny look or two if you overshoot with formality, but that is definitely not the end of the world!

On the other hand, opting for informal style and vocabulary in certain situations may be tactless and even rude. This in mind, use this simple rule:
When in doubt, keep it formal!

Formal and Informal English

There are two registers in English — formal and informal. Formal language is more common for official speeches, writing, academic texts. Informal (also known as colloquial) finds its application in speech and writing that take place among friends or people that know each other well.

You are likely to encounter assignments with formal and informal styles in your IELTS Task 1 General, CAE Letter writing and TOEFL writing. Should you choose to enter a college or university, most of your academic papers will have to be in formal style. Your opinion articles however will remain to be informal.

Formal style
  • Differences in vocabulary (Allow instead of let; beverages, not drinks; appropriate, not proper). See formal and informal vocabulary for more!
  • No contracted forms of words (He is, not he’s; We are not we’re; there are not there’re)
  • Use of passive constructions to make the statement sound less categorical. This includes distancing(also known as hedging) and passive voice:
    Distancing/hedging is a way to make the saying more vague, to distance yourself from the opinion you express. It makes you sound like a messenger rather than the author of this opinion
    Examples: Some people think that alcohol should be made illegal
    1.2 Use it to make your expression more tactful and polite.
    Examples: It seems that you have forgotten to greet the guests; You might want to park your car on the other side of the street next time, it is forbidden to leave your vehicles here
    1.3 Hedging comes in handy to communicate information that is unconfirmed. This way the speaker will feel responsible should the information he gives turns out to be false.
    Examples: It is believed that the troops will leave the country in two weeks; They seem to be supportive of our ideas
    For more information on hedging constructions visit this page of uefap.com website — it has a comprehensive list of hedging/distancing devices
    2. Use of passive voice to move the focus of sentence to action rather than the thing or person.
    Examples: I was forced to go to that party; The food has been bought by my mother; The money had been paid in full
  • Multiple clauses within one sentence. (President Obama thought that this situation should be dealt with assertively and as soon as the conflict is over the country’s foreign policy has to be reconsidered)
    Such unnecessarily long sentences are typical for formal writing. I advice whenever possible to make your sentences more concise, easier to read.
  • Avoiding use of phrasal verbs when possible (To continue, not to go on; To concede, not to give up)
Informal (colloquial) style
  • Use of ellipsis. Ellipsis is leaving out words from sentence without making it more difficult to understand. Below are examples of elliptical sentences with full sentences in brackets
    Examples: Write to you soon (I will write to you soon); Got to go (I have got to go); See you later (I will see you later)
  • Informal punctuation. Exclamation marks(!) and ellipsis (aka triple dot (…) have their use in informal text, but  never in a formal one.
  • You are encouraged to use:
    1. Phrasal verbs. They make your text more cohesive, easier to read.
    2. One- or two-clause sentences. Shorter sentences generally help understanding the gist of your text or speech.
    3. Contracted forms (He’s, we’re).
    4. Slang and set expressions. See formal and informal vocabulary

English Prepositions

english prepositions

Prepositions are one of the four cornerstone skills of natural English speech for non-natives. The main challenge when learning prepositions in English is that they can be very different from your mother tongue. It is better to learn prepositions by examples — this way you will establish a connection between form and meaning of preposition in your mind.
The prepositions below are divided into groups of application: prepositions of place and time. The second part of this entry contains a summary table for prepositions of time and place.

Prepositions of place: in, on, at

IN is used with big areas such as towns, cities, countries and continents:
She has been living in Europe for two years now.
Climate in the US is very diverse.
I stayed in London for two weeks
He is the best write in the world.

Same applies to enclosed spaces such as rooms/buildings. Think of it as shortened version of inside:
There is some milk in the bottle. The bottle is in the fridge.
George is in his room waiting for you.
She works in the supermarket (see comparison with at below)

ON is used when we talk about something located on a surface such as a table, a river, ground surface:
We were lying on the grass staring into the night sky.
I’ve put the morning newspaper on the kitchen table.

ON is used with names of streets and avenues:
I live on Baker Street. The museum is located on Brooks Avenue.
The house we are looking for is on Route 50.

However, if we talk about a more specific address then we use AT:
The school is at 109 Lincoln Street.
I will meet you at 65 Hancock Avenue.

We use at when talking about a point at some place instead of bigger area:
I met him at the restaurant (They met at a certain place in that restaurant, e.g. at the entrance.).
I’ll be waiting for you at the station.

Use at when talking about such places as school, shop, supermarket. At is also used when talking about companies and institutions:
He has been working at Apple for almost a decade.
I stopped at the local supermarket to do some shopping BUT: I decided to stay in the supermarket because it was raining outside (We used in because the fact of being inside the building was more important)

AT is used when talking about an event involving a group of people:
We met him at the party last night.

Prepositions of time: in, on, at

IN is used to show that something happened in unspecified point of time.
She woke up in the morning. I was born in 1971. They plan to move to New Jersey in August.

We use IN with longer periods of time (months, seasons, years, centuries):
The birds usually return here in late spring.
Harper Lee died in 2016.
Many great books were written in the 18th century.

Use IN when talking about a period of time until something happens:
I am going to leave the country in four days.
The exam results will be announced in two weeks. 

IN should be used with parts of day:
I usually wake up early in the morning
They promised to visit us in the afternoon BUT: at midday, at night, at midnight

ON is normally used with days and dates:
I’ll meet you on Monday.
She is due to arrive on the 31st of January.
These flowers always bloom on the first day of spring (Even though there is a season mentioned we still stick use ON because it refers to the day rather than the season)

AT is put before specific points at time (e.g. at 5 o’clock, at midnight, at midday, at 8:30 in the morning)
I usually get paid at the end of the month.
I hope to see you next weekend.

Use AT with meals:
You weren’t very talkative at dinner yesterday.
I will see you all guys at lunch!

Prepositions of place, summary
INONATNo preposition
(the) morning
Baker St.
22 Red Ave


Prepositions of time, summary
four days
the morning
a moment
1st day
4th of July
2 a.m.
5 o’clock



English language collocations


Collocations are words that combine well together, making set phrases. “Do your homework”, “a brief period”, “a bunch of flowers” — all of these are collocations, accepted combinations of words. It is one of the fundamental aspects of natural English. Good knowledge of collocations makes your speech sound effortless and cohesive.

Why you should learn collocations

  • Proper use of collocations makes your speech and writing more natural. You say Do me a favour, not make me a favour
  • Gives you more freedom to paraphrase your ideas correctly. Examples: to get a job, to find a job, to look for a job
  • Collocations are tough to guess if you don’t know them. It takes a very developed “feel” of the language to guess them correctly

Types of collocations

  • Noun+noun. (a flock of birds, a giant of a man, file and rank)
  • Noun+adjective. (a major problem, a key point, a plausible outcome)
  • Noun+verb. (I like to watch TV; he shut the door)
  • Verb+adverb. (to step lightly; he easily defeated him; they barely moved)
  • Adverb+adjective (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that)

This is a list of basic collocation groups. There are some more, but for now we shall concentrate on those above.

There are two ways to learn new collocations. You can use specialized dictionaries and dedicated textbooks for that. Alternatively, you may want to note any collocations in text you read and write them down. Of course, you have to be experienced enough to be able to recognize them.

This article contains the most basic collocations. They are grouped by words rather than types. I believe such grouping makes more practical sense. To make sense is a collocation too by the way.
Some verbs have explanations (in brackets), mostly more complex ones. All of the verbs have illustrative examples.

Collocations with “do”

Do a favour Do me a favour, stop pestering me with your problems
Do one’s best (try very hard to achieve smth.) — I did my best and we won
Do the dishes/cleaning/laundryHave some tea, I have to do the dishes
Do one’s hair (to comb, wash, arrange hair) — I want my hair done
Do damage/harmLast night’s storm did much damage to the house
Do an experimentThey have done some experiments on animals

Collocations with “make”

Make a fuss (to cause argument, commotion) — She made a fuss over the fact that the waitress didn’t smile at her
Make noise — The noise her rusty old car was making could was terrible
Make a choice — The choice had to be made as soon as possible
Make a mistake — Making such mistakes is unacceptable
Make a phone call — She has to make a few calls before noon
Make a decision — Making this decision wasn’t easy for either of us
Make an effort (to attempt, to try to do something) — They made an effort to reach out to them

Collocations with “get”

Get upset He got upset because of your behaviour
Get better (to recover e.g. from illness) — Our dog is getting better
Get angry You shouldn’t get angry at him, he’s too young
Get married Nowadays people get married in their thirties
Get permission I got the permission to leave from my boss
Get drunk Last Friday we got so drunk I don’t remember anything
Get up (to wake up or to stand up) — Get up, it’s time to go
Get lost (to lose one’s way) — Once she got lost in the woods there
Get away (to run away or to remain unpunished) — I don’t understand how does he manage to get away with his behaviour

Collocations with “go”

Go hiking/jogging/sightseeing Would you like to go jogging with me early in the morning?
Go to bed After the army I go to bed at 10 pm sharp
Go missing (to get lost) — The lady went missing two days ago
Go abroad (go to another country) — We don’t go abroad very often
Go mad (become crazy) — There’s something wrong with Jack, I think he went completely mad
Go quiet (become silent) — Suddenly, the street went completely quiet

Collocations with “catch”

Catch a cold (get or suffer from cold) — He forgot his cap and caught terrible cold last night
Catch a taxi/bus/train Hurry up or we wont be there in time to catch out train!
Catch smb red-handed (catch committing crime) — The robbers were caught red-handed by the police
Catch sight of smb (notice someone) — I caught sight of your yesterday evening in the mall
Catch smb’s eye (to attract attention) — The girl by the arcade machine really caught my eye