MUST KNOW OET Idioms or Idiomatic Expressions?

Learn the do's and don'ts of idiomatic phrases for the OET speaking test to communicate naturally and professionally, boosting your score.

Comprehensive Guide to Idiomatic Speech and Idioms for OET Speaking Success


Idiomatic speech, or general idioms, is a cornerstone of fluency in English, and its mastery is crucial for success in the Occupational English Test (OET) speaking component. Idioms enrich communication, allowing speakers to convey meanings with an economy of words and a touch of cultural insight. This guide will explore how idiomatic expressions can elevate your OET speaking performance, drawing on the rich tapestry of English language expressions.


The Significance of Idioms in OET Speaking Scores

The OET evaluates healthcare professionals’ ability to communicate effectively in medical scenarios, with idiomatic speech being a significant metric. Understanding and utilizing idiomatic language can help candidates demonstrate proficiency and cultural competence, which are critical to achieving high scores.

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Evaluating Idiomatic Speech in OET

The linguistic criteria for the OET underscore the need for idiomatic fluency. Candidates are assessed on four key factors, one of which is ‘Resources of Grammar and Expression.’ To attain the highest score in this domain, candidates must showcase a confident command of idiomatic language.


Distinguishing Between Types of Idioms

Not all idioms are created equal, especially in the professional setting of the OET. Discerning which idioms to use and which to avoid is vital for test-takers.


Proverbial Idioms: Use with Discretion

Proverbial idioms are often colorful and humorous, but they may not align with the professional tone expected in OET scenarios. These include expressions like “kick the bucket” or “under the weather.” While they are a part of English speech, their place in a professional healthcare setting is limited.

Examples of Proverbial Idioms:

  • “Kick the bucket” implies death in a casual, even comical way.
  • “A bitter pill to swallow” symbolizes accepting something difficult or unpleasant.
  • “Under the knife” refers to undergoing surgery.
  • “Under the weather” describes a feeling of illness or discomfort.
  • “Out of shape” means not being physically fit.

These idioms, while part of everyday English, should be used sparingly and with caution during the OET.


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Essential Idiomatic Phrases: The Backbone of Natural Speech

In contrast to proverbial idioms, idiomatic phrases are integral to natural, fluent English. They often consist of prepositional phrases, colloquial expressions, and verbs that, when combined, have meanings that transcend the sum of their parts.

Examples and Contextual Usage:

  • “In terms of” is used to specify a particular aspect of the topic.
    • In terms of treatment options, we have several alternatives.
  • “Deal with” refers to taking action on a particular matter.
    • We must deal with the patient’s concerns promptly.
  • “Sort of” or “kind of” indicates a degree of vagueness or similarity.
    • The symptoms are sort of like the flu, but not exactly.
  • “Make sure” emphasizes the need to confirm or ensure something.
    • Please make sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully.
  • “Go through” can mean to experience or to review in detail.
    • The patient will need to go through a series of tests.

These phrases enhance the speaker’s ability to convey complex information succinctly and are expected in professional communication.


Literal vs. Figurative Language in Idioms

Idiomatic phrases do not make sense when taken literally; their meanings are derived from convention rather than the direct interpretation of the words.


Understanding Figurative Meanings

Consider the idiomatic phrase “make sure,” which, when dissected, seems to suggest “creating certainty.” However, the figurative meaning is about ensuring that something is done correctly or happens as expected. Another example is “as well,” which literally might suggest “as in a good manner,” but figuratively it means “also” or “too.”


The Prevalence of Idiomatic Phrases in English

English speakers employ idiomatic phrases frequently, with an estimated 20,000 in common use. These phrases allow for nuanced expression and are essential for achieving a natural-sounding flow in speech.


Idioms in Action: OET Role Play Scenarios

Role play exercises in the OET simulate real-world interactions where idiomatic speech is naturally woven into dialogue.


Idiomatic Phrases in a Medical Context:

  • “Find out” implies a process of discovery or investigation.
    • We need to find out what is causing your symptoms.
  • “Dealing with” suggests managing or coping with something.
    • How have you been dealing with the pain?

These exchanges demonstrate how idiomatic phrases can be used effectively in medical dialogues.

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Formal vs. Natural Language in OET Conversations

While formal language has its place, idiomatic speech often sounds more natural and fluid, especially in conversational contexts like those in the OET.


Comparison of Conversational Styles:

  • A more natural-sounding exchange might involve a nurse asking, “Are you open to seeing a dermatologist?” and a patient responding, “Hopefully, the dermatologist can take care of it.”
  • A formal version might sound stilted: “Would you consider consulting a dermatologist?” with the reply, “I am hopeful that the dermatologist can ameliorate the condition.”

The first example uses idiomatic phrases that make the conversation sound authentic and relatable.


Strategies for Mastering Idiomatic Speech

To effectively incorporate idiomatic phrases into your OET preparation, consider the following strategies:



Immersion and Practice

  • Engage with native English content, such as podcasts, television shows, and conversations, to hear idiomatic speech in context.
  • Practice using idiomatic phrases in simulated OET role plays or in daily conversation.


Understanding Context and Usage

  • Learn not just the meanings of idiomatic phrases but also their appropriate contexts.
  • Use resources that provide examples of idiomatic phrases used in medical settings.


Feedback and Refinement

  • Seek feedback on your use of idiomatic language from native speakers or language coaches.
  • Refine your understanding and usage through iterative practice and correction.


Conclusion: Embracing the Natural Flow of Idiomatic Speech

In preparation for the OET speaking test, embracing idiomatic speech is about more than memorizing phrases; it’s about understanding their figurative meanings and using them to communicate effectively in a professional context. By learning and practicing idiomatic phrases, you can make your English sound natural, which is key to connecting with patients and colleagues and, ultimately, to excelling in the OET.

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