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How to use formal spoken English

Formal English
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Formal language is appropriate when you’re speaking in a professional situation. But what exactly is formal spoken English, and how should you use it?

Over the next few weeks you’ll learn more about the specifics of using formal spoken Medical English. Below are a few general tips for using the correct register when you’re interacting with a patient or client. It’s useful for your everyday professional life, and it’s essential for passing the OET speaking exam.

1. Don’t use slang

The appropriate use of slang is difficult to judge even for a native speaker. Never use it in formal English. How do you know if the new word you’ve heard is slang? Well, if you’ve picked it up from social media, the chances are that it is. Go for simple, clear language that everyone can understand.

2. Use contractions

Forget what you might have learned. In spoken English – formal or informal – using contractions is essential. Saying it’s, doesn’t, or I’d will make you sound more fluent and at ease, and it’s the way native speakers talk. However, don’t do this if it’s more difficult for you to be understood. Better to say we are rather than we’re if it helps your meaning come across.


3. Phrase questions politely

Perhaps you think the phrases Would you mind…? or Could I possibly …? are too time-consuming to learn. But to native English speakers, they sound like politeness. Of course, you’re entitled to say Can you…? or even Do this. Some people prefer the direct approach. But in general, politeness = formal English. If you can get your mouth around such long phrases, try them.


4. Err on the side of caution

If you’re unsure, prioritise formal over informal English, because stilted is better than over-familiar. As a medical professional, you don’t want to come across as if you’re chatting over the garden fence.


Watch this video from SLC to learn about using appropriate language for the OET. And for more hints and tips on passing the OET speaking exam, check out SLC’s guide here.

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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