Discourse markers are words or phrases we use in speaking and writing that ‘signpost’ communication or debate. They do this by showing turns, joining ideas together, showing attitude and controlling communication. Other names for discourse markers can be ‘linking words’ or ‘linking phrases’ and ‘sentence connectors’. Using discourse markers effectively in the speaking and writing parts of the exam, will help you gain those precious marks.
Discourse management is the criterion where Cambridge University are testing students on how well they manage what they are actually saying. For example, speaking at length without hesitation, speaking on topic and using a range of cohesive devices and discourse markers.
Let's look at some examples you can use in your exam
These are used informally in spoken English to point out that what you are going to say is a contradicti on or an afterthought to what has already been said. Still can be used in a similar way.
“Miners in this country work for long hours in very difficult conditions and mostly in the dark. Mind you, they’re well paid for the work they do.”
“The divorce was very long and difficult and she didn’t get half of what she was expecting. Still, she’s been left with a comfortable house to bring the children up in.”
By the way/Incidentally
These are used to introduce an afterthought. However, they don’t contradict what has already been said. Incidentally is slightly more informal than by the way.
“I’m meeting Tom at five o’ clock to discuss the end-of-year balances and then I’m playing tennis with Greg. Oh, by the way, I won’t want anything to eat when I get home.”
“She should do well. She’s highly intelligent, she has worked hard and done a lot of revision. Incidentally, her name is missspelt on the examination entry form.”
These are similar to mind you and still and they are used to show contrast with what has been said before. However, they are more common in written English.
As expected, Britain has again come last in the European athletics championships. However, we did register one small success by coming third and winning the bronze in the hop, skip and jump.
He is unlikely ever to get into the first team and I know he is keen to return to his native country at the earliest opportunity. Nevertheless, he will be expected to fulfil his contract and remain with us until the end of the summer.
You know/Like/Let’s see
These words are what we call fillers, and they are used to allow the speaker time to think about what they are going to say. These fillers are commonly used in conversation. Many young adults and teenagers use like as a filler as it has become a speaking habit.
“That strong wind that caused all the damage to the beach huts. That was back in – like / let’s see – October?”
“I don’t ever throw my rubbish away in the street. I – like / you know – care about the environment and stuff”
“She didn’t get the joke! I’m – like – laughing my head off, but she couldn’t see what was funny about it”
“He phoned me to say it was all over. I said – like – you can’t do that to me”
These discourse markers are slightly informal and used to add important information to a speech or a piece of writing.
Moreover, Prince Andrew was expected in Moscow, where old Prince Bolkonski was spending the winter, and Natasha felt sure he had already arrived
“When I was not guessing, I was jumping at conclusions, and this fault, in addition to my dullness, aggravated my difficulties more than was right or necessary”
Using discourse markers correctly in an English exam will impress an examiner, as it demonstrates good knowledge and control of the language. I advise all my students who are taking an exam to practice using discourse markers, in order to achieve a higher mark.
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