Discourse Coherence: Enhancing the flow of your speech

Modified on Wed, 28 Jun 2023 at 03:26 PM

Imagine you are building a tower with blocks. Each block represents a sentence in your speaking response. When your tower is strong and steady, it means your sentences fit together nicely and make sense. This is what we call "discourse coherence."

To have good discourse coherence in TOEFL Speaking, it means that your sentences should connect smoothly, like putting blocks on top of each other without them falling down. You need to make sure that your ideas flow logically from one sentence to the next, so that everything you say fits together nicely.

When you have good discourse coherence, it helps the person listening to you understand your ideas better. It's like telling a story where all the parts make sense and are in the right order. So, when you speak in the TOEFL Speaking test, remember to build your tower of sentences carefully, making sure they fit together well and tell a clear story or express your ideas in a logical way.

Technical Explanation

DimensionModelConstructImpact on OverallDefinition
Discourse CoherenceLanguage UseConnectivesMildHow your response is formed to connect ideas.

Responses with a higher Discourse Coherence score (i.e. more connectives) correlate with high TOEFL Speaking scores.

Overall Score

  • Good: 26-30
  • Fair: 18-25
  • Limited: 10-17
  • Weak: 0-9

What this chart tells us

For the Discourse Coherence dimension, there is a mild relationship between the pronouns and conjunctions and connectives in your response and your overall TOEFL Speaking score. To earn a high overall TOEFL Speaking score, you likely need to produce a more cohesive response than most other test takers.

You are here - What this line means (and why the bars overlap)

  • the Discourse Coherence score for this response is 12 (i.e. it scored in the 12th percentile)
  • 88% of all responses scored higher; 12% of all responses scored lower
  • responses with a Discourse Coherence score of 12 are generally consistent with an overall TOEFL Speaking score in the Limited range
  • responses with a Discourse Coherence score between 55 and 76 scored in the Fair and the High ranges (i.e. where the blue/green bars overlap)
  • the Impact of this dimension is 2/4, meaning there is a mild correlation between Discourse Coherence and your overall TOEFL Speaking score


Non-Technical Explanation

Consider these lyrics from Try by Pink. They are "coherent" (we can also say they are cohesive).

Think Pink

The coherence in Pink's lyrics can be understood as follows:

  • Line 1: The first line sets up a cause-and-effect relationship: "Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame." It implies that when you have strong desires or passions, there will be consequences or actions that follow.

  • Line 2The second line continues the cause-and-effect idea: "Where there is a flame, someone's bound to get burned." It suggests that when there is a flame or passion, there is a likelihood that someone will experience negative consequences (i.e. get hurt).

  • Line 3The third line introduces a contrast and challenges the assumption that getting burned means certain death: "But just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die." It emphasizes that experiencing pain or failure does not mean it's the end; it doesn't signify permanent harm or failure.

  • Line 4The last line emphasizes the importance of resilience and trying again: "You've gotta get up and try, try, try." They encourage you to persevere and keep making efforts (i.e. to find another "flame") despite setbacks or failures. It conveys the message that getting back up and trying again is essential to achieve success or overcome challenges.

Pink's lyrics demonstrate coherence by presenting a sequence of ideas that build upon each other, showcasing the cause-and-effect relationship, presenting a contrast, and ultimately emphasizing the importance of resilience and perseverance. You can do the same thing in your TOEFL Speaking responses.

Take Action

To improve Discourse Coherence scores in TOEFL Speaking using the "Pink method" as an example, you can take the following actionable steps: 

  • Establish Clear Relationships: Clearly establish the cause-and-effect relationships between ideas. Practice expressing connections between desires and consequences, or between certain actions and their outcomes. This can be done by using appropriate transition words or phrases such as "because," "so," "therefore," or "as a result." 

  • Use Contrast Effectively: Practice incorporating contrasts into responses to highlight differences or opposing ideas. This can be done by using words like "but," "however," or "on the other hand" to introduce contrasting thoughts. Consider how to present different perspectives or alternative viewpoints. 

  • Maintain Logical Progression: Ensure that ideas flow logically and smoothly from one to another. Avoid sudden or abrupt shifts in topic or focus. Use transitional words and phrases such as "firstly," "next," "in addition," or "finally" to guide the listener through your ideas in a coherent manner. Provide Examples or Illustrations: Support your statements or arguments with relevant examples or illustrations. Just as the lyrics use vivid imagery to convey meaning, incorporating specific details or examples can make your speech more coherent and engaging. 

  • Practice Self-Monitoring: During practice sessions, pay attention to the overall coherence of your responses. Take note of any areas where the connection between ideas may be weak or unclear. Practice self-monitoring to identify and address any gaps in logical progression, coherence, or transitions. 

  • Seek Feedback: Collaborate with a language partner, tutor, or TOEFL preparation instructor to receive feedback on your coherence and transitions. They can provide insights on areas for improvement and suggest specific strategies to enhance the flow and coherence of your speaking responses. 

  • Analyze and Study Sample Responses: Study sample responses from TOEFL Speaking tests to analyze how coherent speakers structure their ideas and use language to convey logical connections. Identify patterns, transition phrases, and techniques that contribute to effective discourse coherence. Check out AI Assist mode in My Speaking Score to do this. #learnmore

  • Engage in Listening and Reading Activities: Improve your overall understanding of discourse coherence by engaging in activities such as listening to podcasts, watching TED Talks, or reading articles. Pay attention to how speakers or writers present and connect ideas smoothly, and try to emulate those patterns in your own speaking. 

By implementing these actionable steps and practicing regularly, you WILL enhance your Discourse Coherence in TOEFL Speaking.

Check out a case study on DC here.

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