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TOEFL Vocabulary

Vocabulary for TOEFL Speaking Part 1

October 15, 2018

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. 

IELTS Vocabulary

Vocabulary and Tips for IELTS Speaking Part 1

July 5, 2018

Vocabulary and Tips for IELTS Speaking Part 1

Do you know how to prepare yourself for the IELTS Speaking Paper? Follow these tips and learn this vocabulary and you will improve your confidence (and score) on Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Exam.

First, three useful tips . . .

Vocabulary and Tips for IELTS Speaking Part 1

#1: Be able to describe where you are from and your job with 100% confidence.

Imagine this: A student works in the Human Resources office of a department in her government. When she comes to the U.S., she is not sure if the U.S. has the same department. She also is unsure of the translation of her government department into English. When she takes the IELTS exam, she cannot confidently talk about her career.

What a shame! Avoid this by making sure you can describe where you are from and what you do.


#2: Anticipate questions about your career and hometown and then use impressive phrasal verbs and idioms.

Saying where you are from and what you do for a living takes 5 seconds. What happens when you do not have the vocabulary to say more than “My name is _____. I am from _______. I am a ______”?

Before the test, make sure that you can speak about your hometown, describe it confidently, and talk about yourself using natural expressions. For example:

“My name is Amina. I was born in Lebanon but I grew up* in Germany. I am sort of the black sheep** of my family because I’m the only one who came to the U.S. to study: the rest of my siblings*** studied in the UK.”

*grew up: advance to maturity
** black sheep: something that is different within a group of things that are the same
*** siblings: brothers and sisters 

#3: Use natural expressions

Sometimes, students say that they feel like a robot during the speaking test. This is common when you do not have the small words and expressions that you use in your native language(s). The vocabulary below will help you speak more naturally. 

Vocabulary and Tips for IELTS Speaking Part 1

Vocabulary for IELTS Speaking Part 1

Talking about yourself

  • Your past. I grew up in (place), which is . . .  
  • Your job. I am (currently/presently) . . .
  • Where you live now. I’ve been living in (place) for (blank years/month).
  • Current plans. At the moment, I’m taking classes at . . . and . . .
  • Future plans. I’m hoping to . . .
  • Future plans. I’m planning on . . .


Asking for repetition

  • Could you please repeat the question?
  • One more time?
  • I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Would you mind repeating?



Inserting natural phrases

  • Well, I’d have to say that . . .
  • It’s tough to say, but I’d . . .
  • In my opinion, . . .


Negative statements

  • I’m not so sure that . . .
  • I’m not convinced that . . .
  • To be perfectly honest, I . . .
  • Between the two of us, . . .



  • For example, . . .
  • As an example, . . .
  • For instance, . . .
  • Perhaps you’re aware of . . .



  • What’s weird is . . .
  • Something surprising is . . .
  • One thing I never expected was . . .
  • Never in a million years did I . . .
  • I’m not ashamed to admit that . . .
  • Many are surprised to hear that . . .
  • It’s common knowledge that . . .


Featured Student Life Vocabulary

Casual English for Conversation

June 12, 2018

Casual English for Conversation

“Conversation is food for the soul.” -Proverb

Conversation is an art and can be difficult in any language. When learning English, it can be even more difficult if you do not have the right vocabulary words to ask the right questions! The next time you have a conversation in English, try using some of these questions and phrases. They will help you to have a casual conversation in English, which will allow you to get to know someone a little better.

Casual English for Conversation

Use these questions to begin a conversation with someone that you know.

What’s new? OR What have you been up to lately/recently?

Use these questions to ask what is new in a person’s life.

  • What’s new?
  • Not much, what’s new with you?
  • OR
  • What have you been up to lately?
  • Just working and life. What about you?

Casual English for Conversation

What’s new in your world?

This is another question to ask about a person’s life and what is new.

  • What’s new in your world?
  • Not much, to be honest. Just working and studying. How about you?
  • OR
  • What’s new in your world?
  • A lot of work lately! And we are getting ready to go on vacation. And you?

Casual English for Conversation

How have you been?

This general question is to ask how a person has been since you last saw him or her.

  • How have you been?
  • Good! And you?
  • OR
  • How have you been?
  • I’ve been good! What about you?

Casual English for Conversation

How are things?

This casual conversation question is just to ask, in general, how the person’s life is going.

  • How are things?
  • Fantastic. I’ve just started a new job. You?
  • OR
  • How are things?
  • Things are great. A little busy lately but good. What about you? How are things?

Casual English for Conversation

It’s been forever!

When you have not seen a person in a long time, this is a great phrase to use. Usually it is followed by a question about how the person has been doing.


  • It’s been forever! How are you?
  • OR
  • It’s been forever! How have you been?


Casual English for Conversation

How’s _____ treating you?

When you want to ask about the person’s job, project, or relationship, use this question.


  • How’s life treating you?
  • How’s the new job treating you?
  • How’s married life treating you?
  • How’s life in San Diego treating you?


Casual English for Conversation

What’s up with _____?

This question is a good way to ask about the status of something in the person’s life. Usually you knew something about this topic but have not had an update recently.

  • What’s up with that job promotion? Did you get it?
  • What’s up with your neighbor? Did he move?
  • What’s up with your sister? Is she still dating that guy?


California Life CISL San Diego Executive English Featured Idioms and expressions San Diego San Diego Travel Tips Suggested student activities Vocabulary

Golf Expressions in English

April 9, 2018

Golf Expressions in English

Do you love to golf? This sport is incredibly popular in English, so it is not surprising that there are many golf expressions in English. How many of these have you heard?

English also uses many expressions from other sports: read our Sports Related Idioms for more information!

Golf Expressions in English

Above/below par

Golf definition: “Par” is the number of attempts a player should make before putting the ball in the hole. (It can also be used for  many rounds of golf or for entire tournaments.) To be “above par” means that it took the player more attempts than “normal”; to be “below par” is the opposite.

English definition: Better or worse than average.

Example: Your writing and vocabulary skills are above par, but we need to work on your pronunciation.

Not up to par

English definition: Not as good as something should be; below average.

Example: I’m worried that my skiing is not up to par with my friends. We will see this weekend when we go to Big Bear!

Hole in one

Golf definition: Hitting the ball into the hole in one attempt. 

English definition: A successful attempt at something.

Example: Your presentation was a hole in one. Excellent job.

On par with

English definition: To be at the same level as something or someone else.

Example: My running isn’t on par with Silvia’s, so it’s difficult to exercise with her.

Par for the course

English definition: Typical.

Example: Spending 2-3 hours on social media each day is par for the course these days.

Tee up

Golf definition: To get ready to hit the ball; to put the ball on the tee (the small wooden piece that goes into the ground).

English definition: Prepare something; make detailed arrangements.

Example: The children are teeing up for their annual spring concert.

Golf Expressions in English

CISL San Diego organizes private or group golf lessons for students upon request. The lessons, which are either 30 minutes or one hour, are organized at one of the four beautiful golf courses in San Diego (La Jolla, Coronado, Balboa Park, or Fashion Valley). The lessons include equipment. For more information, contact the CISL Activities Coordinator at sdactivities (at) cisl (dot) edu.

Featured Lessons Vocabulary

10 Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

January 22, 2018

Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

Phrasal verbs are a part of everyday conversation for English speakers. The following are commonly used in casual conversation. Understanding them will allow you to confidently have a casual conversation.

10 Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

Be up to

Definition: Doing something.

Example: What have you been up to lately?

Example: What are you up to this morning?

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This is a common way to casually ask a friend what their plans are or what they are doing.

Come over

Definition: To go to someone’s house or location.

Example: Do you want to come over later?

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This phrasal verb is the most common way to ask your friend to your house.

Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

Thanks for coming over for lunch!

End up

Definition: To do something or become something that was not in the original plan.

Example: We planned to go to the movies, but we ended up going to the beach because it was a beautiful day.

Example: I wanted to be a surgeon, but I ended up being a dentist.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: Plans change! The phrasal verb “end up” is a great way to express this.

Get together

Definition: To meet socially.

Example: Marianne and I are getting together this weekend for drinks.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This phrasal verb is the easiest way to express social plans.

Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

We got together and studied for our TOEFL test.

Help out

Definition: To help someone.

Example: Thanks for helping out with the cleanup after the party!

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: We all help our friends out when we can.

Keep up

Definition: Continue doing something; persist.

Example: I can’t keep up with my work lately.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: We have to keep up with many things: our jobs, our homework, even the lives of our friends.

Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

I ran into my friend at the mall.

Run into

Definition: To meet someone unexpectedly.

Example: Guess who I ran into the other day? My old teacher!

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: We run into people we know often: RUN INTO expresses this better than saying “I saw _____.”

Take off

Definition: To leave (casual/slang).

Example: I have to take off in about 5 minutes. I have to meet my Mom.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This is a common way to casually say that you need to leave. English speakers use it often.

Phrasal Verbs for Casual Conversation

I’m taking off in 10 minutes and going to the beach. Wanna come?

Turn out

Definition: To produce an unexpected result.

Example: I was worried about ordering a lavender coffee, but it turned out to be delicious.

Example: How did your cake turn out? Did you like that new recipe?

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: Things do not always go as we planned. This phrasal verb expresses this situation perfectly (and casually)!

Note: this phrasal verb is slightly different than END UP, although both refer to an end result. END UP focuses more on the outcome or result, while TURN OUT focuses more on producing the result.

Show up

Definition: To arrive.

Example: I think everyone is showing up around 7:30.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This is a casual way to say “arrive” and is often used in conversation. “Arrive” is more formal.


To learn more about phrasal verbs, read some of our other articles: