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Day 7: Talk successfully online: tips for online communication

Welcome to Day 7 of 'Your Roadmap to Speaking Exam Success'. There's never been a better time to learn a second language. New technology makes it easy to connect with others from all over the world at a time and place that suits you. However, communicating online does come with its own problems and it pays to be aware of these to make sure your online conversations go smoothly.

One significant issue is the lack of face-to-face contact when speaking online. The lack of eye contact and of body language generally will mean many of the signs and messages inherent in face-to-face communication are missing. This can sometimes cause problems, particularly if you're working in groups of three or more.

With general chit-chat between two people, the absence of eye contact is no more a problem when communicating online than it is when talking on the telephone. One person asks a question or makes a statement and the other person responds. But it's useful to be aware of how to avoid communication breakdowns particularly when taking part in discussions or group activities.

Turn-taking can be problematic as it can sometimes be difficult to know when the other person has finished speaking. If you're speaking in groups of three or more, two people can easily start speaking at once, leading to awkward negotiations regarding who should go first.

Fortunately, there are linguistic features of spoken language that act like rules to help conversation take place successfully. For example, intonation at the end of an utterance will rise or fall to show the speaker has finished. The speaker might say something like: 'Do you know what I mean?', 'Yeah?', 'You know?' with rising intonation at the end to show they're happy to hand over to their partner. If you're working in groups of three or more, turn taking will be helped even further if you name the person you're aiming the question at rather than leaving it open to the group.

These tips are particularly useful for online communication, but they're useful communication tools in their own right and being able to use them effortlessly will be further evidence of your communication skills in the exam.

Of course, you'll need to be aware of the different time zones around the world and avoid contacting someone early in the morning or late at night. One useful websites is:

Communication tools such as Skype will usually have a text as well as a voice feature and it's always best to make contact with someone first with a text message rather than calling their voice chat immediately. Your contact will appreciate the warning and it will give them time to get ready to talk or let you know if they're not available at that time.

It's a good idea to wear a pair or headphones when talking online. If you don't, your partner will hear both your voice and their own coming back to them. And it's worth spending time experimenting with how far away from your mouth the microphone needs to be. It it's too far away, you'll come across very faint; too close and there'll be lots of 'pops' and distortion.


1) If you haven't yet spoken to someone online, arrange your first meeting and test your equipment. Ask your partner if they can hear you clearly. Before you log off from the computer make a note of how everything was set up to make sure your next conversation is successful.
2) Listen to some of our recordings on Splendid Speaking that feature 2 students and decide how well the participants dealt with turn-taking.


Find out how to get expert feedback on your speaking skills in tomorrow's lesson.

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