Où est la discothèque? Language oral exam help

Où est la discothèque? Language oral exam help Chatter by D'Arcy Norman

This article was written by Natacha Cullinan, published on 10th May 2010 and has been read 13435 times.

Oral exams are, for a lot of students, the trickiest exams of all, as you're put under pressure, you've got to think on your feet AND answer the dreaded question. So what can you do to prepare, apart from regurgitating linking words and reading through the year's news? Well, there are a few (simple) steps you should take, regardless of how comfortable you are with the lingo...



P.S. This is not necessarily the sort of thing you'd want to mention in an oral exam, regardless of how well Flight of the Conchords' Germaine and Bret came across in their ode to the French language in Season 1. The one thing you don't want to be in an oral exam is too comical, although slipping in a joke or two is fine if you feel you can do them justice (careful with wordplay - caliente is not a word you wanna mention in Spanish practice...).

1. Speak to yourself
echo park media by victoriabernalAll the time. In the shower. In your room. Whilst making tea. Learn a few set expressions and try and use them in conversation regularly. They don't have to be linking words (although you'll need a couple at least), you could learn a few sayings and proverbs to make yourself sound a bit more fluent. Why not try and pick one or two from here and get practising those omniglot skills, like this dude. Well, maybe not just like him, but just make sure you practice, practice, practice...

2. Listen to the radio
Speakerphone by Bastien VaucherYou've probably heard this before, but we'll say it again, listening to people speak will give you more of an idea of how to pronounce certain words, how to use linking words effectively AND you'll also get to hear about the country's news, which can only be a good thing if you're supposed to be in the know of current affairs.

3. Fine tune your grammar
Grammar is students' bête noire - boring for most, but absolutely necessary if you're to make yourself understood. Whether it's the subjunctive that's driving you up the wall, pronouns that are giving your head that light-headed feeling or prepositions that are making you run for the festival hills, you need to buckle down and revise their uses, their function and when and where to use them. Why not take a look at our practice online overview, or go by language: here are French, German, Italian and Spanish to start you off!

4. Plan out a list of potential topics
By this stage, your oral teacher/tutor has probably alluded to what might come up in the exam, or you may have the topic already. Be it current affairs, culture, history or social rights, you need to do some research around the subject matter, get some key vocabulary drilled into your head and also know what the area covers. Make sure you read the news, get some Google alerts set up (with relevant keywords to your subject) so you're on top of the game. Look at past exam papers, ask your tutor for a list of possible topics and group some of your coursemates together to write out lists of arguments.

5. Mock prepare
Talking to myself by erix!How long have you got to shpeel for? 5, 10, 15 minutes? How much can you say in that given amount of time? Once you've got your topic ready, you should time yourself and try and speak for that amount of time, under exam conditions. So that means either asking your tutor if he/she could spare a few minutes, or get practising with a friend, or even get practising in front of a mirror. The mirror try-out is not just so you can spot a blackhead, it's so that you can pay attention to your facial expressions. Most students forget how much non-verbal communication helps or hinders an argument. Fiddling with your fingers won't make you look the slightest bit confident; emphasizing size or matter with hand gestures does. YouTube might help you get an insight into how the locals not only speak, but also interact with one another... and you'll practise your listening, too.

6. Get hold of a dictaphone
Ghettoblaster by _bohemian_Tape yourself whilst you're talking, as it'll give you a good idea of the kind of slip ups you may make (gender, tense etc...) but also so you can hear your intonation. You want to make the subject sound poignant - if your voice is flat, it'll be like a can of fizzy-less Coke: much anticipated, has some of the flavour, but doesn't excite even a nostril hair. Alright, it's a bad analogy (we're not sure you should be exciting people's nostril hairs when you're speaking in an adopted language), but no one wants to come out of an oral exam feeling like the wallpaper made for more interesting convo. Stress certain words/arguments, speak slowly if you're trying to highlight a point, don't swallow your syllables and smile once in a while. It comes across in the listening, too.

7. Plan, prepare, polish
Were you tuning in for Gordon Brown's speech last week? Meek and mild, to say the least, as his argument for party coalition was running around all over Downing Street and seemed to end up in the Royal Borough of Camden. Why? Well, there are many reasons why (...), but if we're getting to the logistics of it, his argument sounded poor because there wasn't a clear structure to it. At this stage, the last thing you want to sound like is a headless chicken trying to pluck out expressions, with a point that has no head nor tail (alright, enough of the fauna personification). Make sure you have an introduction to your topic/question that really sets out what you're going to cover; once you're into the argumentative side, try and give equal footing to both the 'for' and 'against' arguments; allow yourself enough time to verbalise a healthy conclusion (if possible, one that widens the question further). Job done. Next come...

8. The questions
Exam questions cartoonWhich can be a little tricky, but realistically they're bound to refer back to what you've mentioned during your presentation, if you've done your research. If you haven't heard something properly, don't be scared to ask your examiner to repeat the question - there's nothing worse than someone who's answering badly as they've misheard. Take time to answer them, think about what the question is really saying and back up every answer with an example. With all this advice, you should be rearing to go! Breathe, relax and let your tongue do the talking! Why not have a look at our list of networking sites so as to find a language partner across the world? Alternatively, why not post something in our forum.

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