A very important part of the fluency and coherence criteria assessed in the IELTS speaking test are words and phrases called discourse markers. The term may sound complicated but the idea is simple: discourse markers are those words and phrases we use to move through conversations, going from one idea to the next, to introduce new topics or return to old ones.
Many learners know it is important to use discourse markers, but do not realise that some of these markers also show the listener the speaker’s attitude toward the new idea.
Let's look at four common discourse markers used to introduce opinions and try to clarify the attitudes behind them.
1. In my opinion
It is clear that this phrase is used to introduce your opinion, but you cannot forget it also implies that you know or expect other people will disagree with you.
At the dinner table:
“In my opinion, keeping a healthy diet is an important way to keep fit.”
Think about it, who is going to disagree with that?
Here is an example of the phrase used correctly:
In a bookstore:
“In my opinion, Macbeth is Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. Hamlet may be more famous but it's not as interesting.”
2. To be honest
It is easy to see that ‘to be honest’ means that the speaker wants to emphasise he or she is not lying, but there is more to this phrase than just that; we emphasise our honesty with this phrase when we are in situations where we might actually prefer not to be honest, often because we feel a bit embarrassed.
“I’ve been teaching English for ten years, but, to be honest, I sometimes forget how to spell simple words.”
The context we can understand from the first part of this sentence why the speaker would feel embarrassed by this. Compare the two examples below.
“Chocolate has such a sweet taste and creamy texture. To be honest, it’s my favourite snack” “Chocolate has such a sweet taste and creamy texture. To be honest, I eat chocolate every day.”
The first example is incorrect. Since most people like chocolate, there is no reason for the speaker to be embarrassed that she also enjoys it. The second example, however, is more sophisticated: there is nothing that shows us why the speaker is embarrassed, but she assumes her listener also believes that it is not particularly healthy to eat chocolate every day. That shared belief makes her embarrassment make sense and the use of the phrase correct.
3. Frankly speaking
Like ‘To be honest’, this phrase emphasises that you are telling the truth, but you need to remember that it also indicates that even though you are talking about something sensitive, you are willing to speak directly and honestly about it.
Two co-workers in an office:
“Did you see John's presentation? He looked really unprepared.” “Frankly speaking, I don't think he's qualified for the job.”
4. As far as I'm concerned
This phrase is similar to ‘In my opinion’. We use it to introduce an opinion but it also indicates that the speaker understands his opinion is only one of many factors involved in the situation. The phrase shows others that we know our opinion is not universal, or it may not matter much.
When angry at another driver:
“He just cut in front of me! As far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive if you don’t know how to use a turn signal!”
In a record store:
“As far as I’m concerned, Abbey Road is the Beatles’ best album.”
So, start your students off by choosing one or two phrases like these and make sure they know how to use them correctly. Encourage them to make example sentences of their own in context, which they can then share and review with their peers. From there, gradually encourage your students to actively use them in speaking practice, while partners can be tasked with listening to check they are being used well and appropriately.
Submitted by Eyad Darras, British Council language assessment consultant