Tuesday, 19 May 2015

How to do well in a foreign language speaking exam

Year Abroad blog
I've just finished my German speaking exam and although it went OK, it's one exam I always struggle with. It's horrible sitting in that room with nothing in front of you other than a microphone and a examiner. In my first GCSE speaking exam I panicked and forgot every word of German I knew, I could barely speak English I was so nervous and ended up getting a G (I didn't even know that grade existed before that assessment). Obviously now I am studying a language at university, I've managed to raise my oral exam game. I've picked up a few tips over many oral exams and I thought I'd share them with you guys:

Be calm and confident 

There will be different methods of feeling calm and confident for everyone so you will need to know what works for you. Deep breathes before entering the examination room is always essential for me. Some people also find having a stress ball or something to hold is helpful. If I don't, I will end up playing with my hair or something which can be distracting for the examiner and make you seem nervous and unsure. I try to just keep my hands in my lap. Also I find wearing clothes I feel confident and smart in is always a bonus. If nothing else, just pretend you're confident and you might even fall for it yourself!

Have a few 'aaah' phrases lined up 

So if you're unsure on an answer or the question, you know how to react. It can help you feel calmer. If I don't understand the question, I will say something like can you say that again please (for German: 'wie bitte' or 'nochmal bitte' or 'können Sie das wiederholen?'). If I don't know the answer I will admit it and move on to something I can talk more confidently about (hopefully!) rather than struggle or make something up, simply say I don't know (ich weiss nicht), or I'm not sure (ich bin nicht sicher). 

Practice, practice, practice 

I'm sure you've heard the phrase 'practice makes perfect', well in terms of oral exams, while you may never be 100% perfect (I mean, who is?) it definitely helps. I'm lucky in that my boyfriend is on my course and so I can practice with him all the time, but finding a friend to practice with is so much better than going at it alone. You can share ideas, phrases and vocab with each other too, and listening to someone else speak the language is also good for your learning. Even just chatting German to your pet (I remember reciting an argument on renewable energy to my horse haha) can help you to feel more comfortable with the language. 

Have key points to form solid arguments

In most oral exams, you have the opportunity to steer the conversation to some extent. Almost all my exams have opened with a broad question and you some flexibility to take the conversation where you want. I find it helps to have key topics within your theme that you can bring up. Within these, have some solid arguments. As an example one of my topics this morning was the economy in German. I had points such as unemployment, new minimum wage and inequality, and had some figures to back up arguments for these. Being well prepared is invaluable.

Look after yourself 

It's important to get a good nights sleep the night before. Have a good breakfast the morning of the test too, and drink plenty of water. It'll help to make sure your brain is functioning the best it can! One teacher always told me to eat a snickers before going in as a bit of a sugar boost. Then again, another teacher told me to have a pint before, I haven't tried that tip though.

The most important thing is to do your best. Utilise what you know and you will be absolutely fine! Don't panic if you don't know something, take a second to think about it and then go for it! Für Menschen, die Deutsch sprechen: Viel Glück! And for everyone else: Good luck!! 

Hannah Lane

5 invaluable tools for language learners

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