Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

Can you speak about a topic in English for 45 seconds? Then you’re ready for TOEFL.

Or are you?

TOEFL Speaking Part 1 does require you to respond to a question and speak for 45 seconds, but being able to speak for that length of time does not ensure that you will score well in this section of the test. To score well on TOEFL Speaking Part 1, you need to know some specific vocabulary.

How is TOEFL speaking part 1 scored?

Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

Before learning vocabulary to improve your TOEFL Speaking score, it is important to understand how TOEFL Speaking is scored. This will help you to identify what skills you need to improve.

You must develop and deliver your topic well: this is what TOEFL Speaking scorers look for. TOEFL Speaking is scored based on the following concepts:

  • General Description
  • Delivery
  • Language Use
  • Topic Development

General Description

To score high on TOEFL Speaking, your response must do the following to satisfy General Description criteria:

  • Answer the question as asked
  • Discuss the topic at length
  • Have fluidity of expression
  • Contain intelligible speech


To score high on TOEFL Speaking, your response must do the following to satisfy Delivery criteria:

  • Be well-paced and flow
  • Have clear speech
  • Have only minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation patterns, which do not affect overall intelligibility

Language Use

To score high on TOEFL Speaking, your response must do the following to satisfy Language Use criteria:

  • Demonstrate effective use of grammar and vocabulary
  • Exhibit a fairly high degree of natural speech (meaning it seems like there’s little thought put into it)
  • Have good control of basic and complex structures
  • Have only minor errors that do not obscure meaning

Topic Development

To score high on TOEFL Speaking, your response must do the following to satisfy Topic Development criteria:

  • Response is sustained and sufficient to the task.
  • It is generally well developed and coherent.
  • Relationships between ideas are clear.
  • A progression of ideas is clear.

You can review each of these in detail in the TOEFL Speaking Rubric.

Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

TOEFL Speaking Part 1 will ask you a question. You will have 15 seconds to prepare and you must speak for 45 seconds.

Of course, you cannot prepare for all of the vocabulary that you might encounter in TOEFL Speaking Part 1. However, you CAN learn vocabulary that will help you explain ideas and concepts (and meet the requirements from the above-mentioned rubric). The following words will help you to improve your discourse, progression of ideas, and fluency. These words are used in example sentences based on the following question:

What is something that you do to relax? Describe it and explain why it is peaceful to you.

  • One of the things that I do to relax is go to the harbor in San Diego.
  • The harbor itself isn’t anything to speak of; it’s just a small harbor with ships.
  • However, at sunset, it is transformed into the most lovely place: the water reflects the colors from the sky, creating a vivid and beautiful scene.
  • Something that sticks out in my mind is how the sailing ships become silhouettes with a colorful background of pinks and purples and reds.
  • Another thing I’m reminded of is the sound of the small canoes, which are tied to the dock, as they softly bump into one another.
  • It is peaceful to me because it is a quiet scene amidst a chaotic city.
  • When I’m there, I feel as if I’m in a different location, miles from Downtown.
  • For this reason, I’d say it’s the most peaceful place that I can think of.

Here is why each of these expressions or vocabulary words is useful for TOEFL Speaking Part 1.

One of the things that

To improve your fluency, try to begin your answer with an expression that you prepared in advance. Something like this (one of the things that . . .) is a great expression because it applies to many situations.


Itself/herself/himself is used as emphasis.

  • Even the Queen herself would be impressed by your diamond ring!
  • The owner of the company himself couldn’t have made a better impression.
  • The city itself isn’t that exciting, but its beaches make it a worthwhile destination.

These words, used in this way, are very versatile and show an understanding of more complex language skills.


Conjunctions such as however, although, as a result, therefore, and nevertheless can be your best friends during proficiency tests! Practice and use them with confidence in your daily speech and be sure to use them during your test.

Something that sticks out in my mind is . . .

An expression like this one is also versatile: many of the TOEFL Speaking Part 1 prompts will ask about experiences or memories. Using this expression, which has the phrasal verb to stick out, is a great way to score some extra points. It’s also a great transition expression!

Another thing I’m reminded of is . . .

This is yet another useful and versatile expression that will help your answer progress naturally and with fluidity. It also uses the Passive Voice, which shows that you can use this grammatical structure.

It is peaceful (beautiful/amazing/etc.) to me because . . .

Words such as because are useful. They help to combine sentences in order to create more complex sentences. Extra points for speakers who do this! (Note: you can use any adjective in this structure.)

When I’m there,

Using expressions such as when I or while I also create more complex sentence structures. They’re also relatively easy to construct.

For this reason,

Expressions like as a result or because of this or for this reason are excellent ways to provide fluid explanations. Wrap up your answer with a sentence that begins with this expression.


Converse International School of Languages provides intensive TOEFL Preparation Courses at its locations in San Diego and San Francisco. The goal of the TOEFL Preparation Course is to prepare students to take the TOEFL iBT test by helping students build the skills necessary to successfully answer the questions and complete the tasks in the test, improve their general and academic English proficiency, and learn effective test‐taking strategies. The TOEFL is recognized by colleges, universities, and agencies in more than 130 countries around the world. Contact CISL for more information.