IELTS Speaking: The Introduction Phase of the Test

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The 'Introductory' phase of the test consists of a greeting from the examiner, followed by four questions.
The Standard Introduction Questions

1. "Good morning (good afternoon). My name's XXX. Can you tell me your full name, please?”  (= Please tell me your name.)
2. "What can I call you?” (= What shall I call you? = What should I call you? = What would you like me to call you?)
3. "Can you tell me where you're from?” (= Where are you from?)
4. "Can I see your identification, please?” (= Could I see your identification, please? = May I see your identification, please?)

The main purpose of this part is to check the candidate's identity. At the same time, the examiner begins to get an impression of the candidate's English ability.
This is not really part of the test or, it can be considered to be only "indirectly" part of the test.
You should not give long, detailed answers because:
  a)  Long, detailed answers are not appropriate for these questions and,
  b)  The examiner wants to do the ID check quite quickly, in 20-30 seconds.
Since this is the very beginning of the test and since the examiner wants to do this part quickly, try to avoid causing the examiner to ask you to repeat what you just said.
The four questions are standard questions that are used in every test. Therefore, since we know exactly what the questions will be, it is a good idea to look at them in order to avoid making unnecessary mistakes.
When the examiner first turns on the tape recorder, he makes a short statement into the tape recorder, stating such information as the date, location and the candidate's name.

Good morning (good afternoon). My name’s XXX. Can you tell me your full name, please?

First, the examiner says something like: “Good morning. My name's Jeffrey. Could you tell me your full name, please?”

Many examiners say these three sentences together, without pausing after saying, “Good morning. My name's Jeffrey.”  Because the examiner does not pause to wait for the candidate to return the greeting, most candidates just answer the question without returning the greeting. However, it’s both good manners and more friendly to return a greeting. In other words, you should include “Good morning.” or “Good afternoon” in your answer. If you can catch the examiner’s name (without asking him to repeat it because he wants to do this section quite fast) then you should also include his or her name in your answer.

Don't say, “Good morning, Mr. Jeffrey.” The words Mr., Miss, Mrs. and Ms. are only used before a person's surname and “Jeffrey” is not (usually) a surname. The examiner usually just says his or her given name (first name), not their full name. 

A suitable reply is: “Good morning, Jeffrey. My name is Zhang Fan.” If you do not include his name, it doesn’t matter too much but remember that the examiner is a human being and hearing you say his name would be a pleasant surprise for him! He will think of you, “What a nice person!”

Throughout the speaking test, it is best to use the contracted forms of English whenever possible but in this first answer, it is perfectly appropriate to say, “My name is” rather than, “My name’s”. It is appropriate here because when a person states his or her name in a situation such as the IELTS interview, they usually want to say it very clearly so that the listener makes no mistake with the name. Don't forget, the examiner is verifying your identity here. 

It’s ok to say, “Good morning, Jeffrey. My full name is Zhang Fan.” but it’s not really necessary to repeat the word, “full”. However, you definitely must say your complete name – don’t just say, “My name’s Zhang.”

For instance, even though you are speaking a Chinese name, you still should speak it clearly for the foreigner. In fact, you should speak it more clearly than you would if you were speaking to a Chinese person. This is because it is important for the examiner to confirm that it really is you sitting there and not your brother or someone else. The examiner has your application form in front of him and your name is written on it in HanYu pinyin. Remember, the examiner does not want to waste time by asking you to repeat your name because he didn’t hear it clearly.

Don’t change the order of your name and say your name is, “Fan Zhang”. (Even if you do the test overseas, respect your Chinese naming system.) 

Besides, your name will be written as, "Zhang Fan" on the application form, which is what the examiner is looking at as you say your name.

Don’t say, “My Chinese name is _____”. It is completely unnecessary to say the word, “Chinese” because the purpose here is to check your legal identity, that is, your real name; you only have one legal name and that is your Chinese name. The wording of the question, “… your full name …” shows that this is a serious question and that the examiner wants you to say your real name. Your English name, if you have one, is no more significant than a nickname; you can change it at any time.

Don’t spell your name. (Only spell it if the examiner can't understand your pronunciation of it.)  

Don’t say, “Zhang is my family name and Fan is my given name.” The question didn’t ask you to explain your name. Sometimes there is a Part 1 topic concerning ‘Names’ and in such a topic, explaining your name could be suitable, but not here. Saying that also gives the examiner the feeling that your answer comes from an IELTS book. You should avoid causing the examiner to think this because examiners very much prefer original answers from you. The only time when it might be appropriate to explain which is your surname and which is your given name is if you are a Chinese person doing the IELTS test overseas.  

Don’t call the examiner, “Sir”, “Miss” or “Madame”. If you didn’t hear his or her name, just say, “Good morning.” without saying his or her name. Using “Sir”,  “Miss” or “Madame” is a sign that you either consider the examiner to be a teacher or that you are being unnecessarily formal or that you consider the examiner to be your ‘superior’– you should think of the examiner as an equal, not as someone superior to you. If you think of the examiner as an equal, you will speak more openly, be more relaxed and get a better score than if you think he or she is a superior, or some kind of ‘examining god’.

The examiner’s question was, “Could you tell me your full name, please?” and this sounds like a “Yes/No” question. However, this form of question is not really a “Yes/No” question; it’s an indirect question, which really means, “What is your full name?” Indirect questions are considered more polite than direct questions.  

Whenever you are asked such an indirect question, you should not answer with, “Yes” or, “Yes, I could.” Native English speakers sometimes do answer such questions by first saying a very quick, “Yes” but you should not say that because the examiner might think that you think it really is a “Yes/No” question.  

Some candidates give an answer such as this: “My name is Zhang Fan but you can call me Eric.” This answer is quite acceptable and quite natural in a non-test situation, for example, if you meet a foreigner on the bus. But I suggest you don't say that in the IELTS Speaking test because some examiners might think that you already knew what the second question is (“What can I call you?”) and that you had rehearsed your answer and examiners don’t like answers that seem to be obviously rehearsed. 

Not only that, adding the words, “… but you can call me …” in a situation where someone is verifying your identity is a little unsuitable. If a policeman or a bank clerk asked you, “Can you tell me your full name, please?” would you answer with, “My name is Zhang Fan but you can call me Eric”?

In other words, I would say it is better not to add, “… but you can call me …” after this question. Instead, wait for the examiner's second question.

What can I call you?

Then the examiner will say: “What can I call you?” (Or, “What shall I call you?”)

With this question, the examiner is indicating that he or she would like to address you in the test with some name that is shorter and friendlier than your full name. This is a sign that the test will not be very formal and serious but will instead, to some extent, have some of the features of a friendly chat.

However, as I mentioned above, it is better to wait for the examiner to indicate this, with this second question, than for you to make the decision on the formality level of the test by saying, "… but you can call me ….". Let the examiner be in charge of the test.

You don’t need to use an English name! But if you do use an English name, make sure that it is simple and easy for the examiner to understand the first time you say it. It’s probably best to use a fairly commonly used name. For example, no English speaker chooses to be called, “Apple”, even as a nickname. This kind of name could cause the examiner to ask you to repeat your name because he might not be sure he heard it correctly.

If you do choose to say an English name, make sure that you can pronounce it correctly! Mispronouncing your own English (nick)name is an unnecessary mistake and would not give the examiner a very good impression. For example, if your English name is Harry, don’t say, “Just call me Hairy.” Or, if your English name is Justin, don’t say, “Just call me Justine.”(Justine is the female form of Justin and is pronounced differently). 

Occasionally, a candidate says something like, “Just call me by my English name, Yuki.” But Yuki (and Suki) are Japanese names, not English names. And ‘Pierre’ is a French name (meaning, Peter). You won't lose points in the Speaking test by making such errors but you won't impress the examiner with such basic errors of fact (not errors of English). If you use a name other than your Chinese name, find out if it is in fact an English name or not.

Many candidates say something like, “You can call me Stephen.” That answer is ok but you should not pronounce ‘can’ as ‘kæn’. Instead, you should pronounce it as ‘kən’ or even, “k’n” – it should be pronounced in a quick, short way, not long as in ‘candle’ or ‘Canada’.

‘Can’ is pronounced as ‘kæn’, a) when we ask a question – “Can you help me?”, “Can you swim?” and, b) when we want to emphasize, for example, when we say, “Yes, I can.” However, it is pronounced as ‘kən’ or even, “k’n” when we speak sentences such as: “I can speak English”, “I can drive a car” and “She can play the piano.”

Some examiners will not notice the pronunciation of this word but even those who don’t notice will still feel that your English sounds natural if you say, ‘kən’ or sounds a little unnatural if you say, ‘kæn’.

Don’t say, “You may call me Stephen.” because ‘may’, in this kind of situation, is used when giving permission to, or speaking to a person of inferior status.

Some candidates say: “You can call me by my English name, Stephen.” That’s acceptable but the examiner knows that Stephen is an English name, so why say it? Certainly, you should avoid the mistake of saying, “You can call me my English name, Stephen.” – this is a grammatical mistake – you must use the word, ‘by’ in this expression. Similarly, “You can call my English name, Stephen.” is incorrect.

Another acceptable answer is: “Please call me Stephen.”

Only say something such as, “All my friends call me Stephen” if it is true! Do your Chinese friends really call you ‘Stephen’? You want to avoid giving the examiner the impression that you learned answers like that from an IELTS book.

If you feel that it's suitable and interesting to tell the examiner where you got your English name or why you chose a certain English name, then it is quite natural to add a small comment about that. Examiners are interested in learning something new from candidates and they would like a naturally stated piece of extra information. But keep it very short. (The fact that your high school English teacher gave you your English name is not interesting enough to say in this situation.)

Can you tell me where you’re from?

The third question that the examiner will ask you is: “Could you tell me where you’re from?”  (Or, “Can you tell me where you’re from?”)

Again, this is an indirect question, which really means, “Please tell me where you’re from.” So don’t begin your answer with, “Yes.” 

Just saying, “I'm from Mumbai” or “I'm from Harbin” is answering the question but, since these questions are checking your identity, you should give a more exact answer, i.e., don't just say the name of the province/state where you are from and don't just say the name of the city or town – say both.

Some candidates say: “I come from Melbourne, Victoria.” That answer is not wrong but it could be a little better. How? By using the contracted form of English:I’m from Melbourne, Victoria. As a general rule, you should use contracted English as much as you can, or as often as you remember in the IELTS Speaking test. It’s the natural way to speak English and it’s more fluent.

Definitely do not say: “I came from Melbourne, Victoria.” The question is a present tense question and you should use the present tense in your answer.

For this question, it is suitable, (and perhaps a good idea) to add a small amount of extra information if you want but try to say it quickly and in a short sentence. For example you could say: “I’m from Melbourne, the capital of State Victoria.” Or, “I’m from Melbourne, Victoria. That’s in south-east Australia.”

Make sure you don’t make a grammatical error such as: “I’m from Melbourne, Victoria, south-east of Australia.” ‘South-east of Australia’ means out of Australia. The correct phrase here is, ‘in the south-east of Australia’ or, ‘in south-east Australia’.

Don’t say your town or city belongs to a certain province/state or part of your country – that’s an incorrect usage of ‘belong to’. Instead, you should say it is ‘in’ a certain province or part of your country. 

Similarly, don’t say your town or city is ‘of’ a certain province or part of your country – that’s also incorrect. For example, “I'm from Melbounre of Victoria.”

If you do the test in your hometown (city), you should say something like this: “I’m from here, Beijing.” And put the stress on the word, ‘here’. Don't answer the question in the same way you would if you were doing the test away from your hometown. Your situation is different to many other people and you should express this difference. 

If you do the test in your hometown (city), don’t say: “I’m a local people” – ‘people’ is plural! However, it is quite natural to say, “I’m a local person; I’m from here, Beijing.”  

Also, if you do the test in your hometown it sounds a little inappropriate to use the word ‘come’ in your answer because you never traveled to get to the test; you didn’t ‘come’. For example, “I come from Beijing.” sounds a little strange if you are doing the test in Beijing. On the other hand, “I’m from Beijing” sounds better, but as stated above, you really should express the fact that your situation is different to that of other candidates.

It is not suitable to say something such as: “I’m from Qingdao, a beautiful coastal city in Shandong.” Why is this not suitable? Firstly, it sounds like an advertisement. Secondly, and more importantly, the word, ‘beautiful’ is your opinion but the four questions in the introductory phase of the test are really asking for facts, not opinions. It would be acceptable if you just said, “I’m from Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong.”

Describing Qingdao as ‘beautiful’ is not a major problem and you shouldn’t worry too much about making that kind of slightly inappropriate reply. The major problem with that answer is that you could cause the examiner to suspect that your answer came from an IELTS book, instead of being your own, original language. On the other hand, if you said, “I’m from Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province and it's also a famous historical city”, the answer would be more acceptable because the words, ‘famous’ and ‘historical’ sound more like facts rather than opinions.

Throughout the test, don’t ask the examiner questions – it is the examiner who asks the questions! It is inappropriate (although quite natural in a normal, non-test situation) to say something such as: “I’m from Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province. It was the ancient capital of China for several dynasties. Have you ever been there?

Can I see your identification, please?

The final introduction question is: “Could I see your identification, please?” You should have your ID in your hand or on the table in front of you, ready to give to the examiner.

Note that the examiner doesn't really ask you to say anything. If you say nothing as you give your ID card to the examiner, most examiners will not mind. (Some examiners gave a final score of 7 to some candidates who said nothing when they gave me their ID card. The important thing is what you say in the rest of the test, not what you say, or do not say, as you hand over your ID card!)

Nevertheless, although most examiners would not consider it impolite if you didn’t say anything, it would be best if you did say something. There are two reasons for this: a) it is possible (although unlikely) that your examiner might believe that you should say something, and, b) you have an opportunity here to say something original.

If you cannot think of anything original to say, then simply saying, “Sure.” or “Ok.” in answer to the examiner’s request and giving him your ID card is adequate.

More than 80% of candidates say, “Here you are.” (or, “Sure. Here you are.”) as they hand over their ID card. There is nothing really wrong with this small sentence – it is suitable and it sounds polite. However, many candidates in China have learned this sentence from a book but have never actually heard a native speaker say it, even in a recording. The fact is that this small sentence is most frequently used in spoken English and is spoken quite fast and smoothly, with the major stress on the word, ‘Here’. If you can say it so that it sounds ‘natural’, that is, so that the examiner does not immediately think, “That’s from an IELTS book!”, then it is ok. But my advice is try to find something else to say because it sounds a little too rehearsed and since almost everybody says it, it is so predictable and boring for examiners!

Some candidates say, “Of course.” or, “Of course. Here you are.” I recommend that you do not reply, “Of course” to any of the introduction questions because it sounds somewhat overly polite, formal and unsuitable. (This is my personal opinion, which might not be shared by every other native English speaker or IELTS examiner.) To me, it sounds too much like the language used by service people such as waiters. For example, if you were eating in an expensive, high-class restaurant in London and you said to the waiter, “Could I have a menu, please?”, a typical reply from the waiter would be, “Of course, Sir. Here you are.” Don't confuse the polite language of a service person, speaking to someone of ‘higher status’, with the polite language spoken between people of equal status.

You should definitely not use the phrases, “Here you go.” or, “There you go.” as you hand over your ID card. The reason for this is that these phrases sound too casual and can sound condescending (i.e., speaking down to someone), and are used in situations such as handing an ice-cream to a child or giving money to a beggar.

Some candidates say, “Here it is.” as they give their ID card to the examiner. This is not a huge mistake but it is unsuitable – native English speakers would not say that in this situation. “Here it is.” is more suitable if you were looking for something and then found it. 

For this fourth question, I have advised you more on what you should not say than on what you should say. To sum up, if you can't think of anything original (and interesting) to say, just say a quick, “Sure.” as you hand over your ID card.

 

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