LanguageCert ESOL B1 & B2 Speaking exams: Preparing candidates for their ‘role play’

By having a look at a few LanguageCert ESOL practice papers, one will soon realise that ‘role play’ is an integral part of all Speaking examinations, something that clearly reflects their communicative nature. Role play is to be found in the second part of the Speaking exam and ‘interactive competence’ is one of the constructs the assessor uses to evaluate the test taker’s response.

The following lines aim at reminding the reader of the main features of this part of the examination as well as sharing a few related tips for teachers preparing learners for it.

Background information on the Speaking exam

The LanguageCert ESOL Speaking exam, for all levels, is a one-to-one interview between an interlocutor and a candidate and comprises four parts: Communicating personal information (Part One), Communicating appropriately in social situations (Part Two), Exchanging information and opinions (Part Three) and Presenting a topic (Part Four).

It is in the second part of the LanguageCert ESOL Speaking exam that the candidate and the interlocutor ‘role play’ and enact two or more situations. They communicate in real-life situations and are required to use a range of functional language (i.e. language used in various day-to-day situations, such as when ‘agreeing’, ‘disagreeing’, ‘thanking’ or ‘asking for help’).

While the interlocutor may need to assume a different persona (i.e. pretend to be a ‘teacher’ or a ‘shop assistant’), the candidate is never required to do so. The dialogue usually involves four exchanges (two short turns each) and the duration of this part of the exam is three minutes for levels B1 and B2.

Here are two examples similar to what B1 and B2 level candidates may be presented with on exam day:

Example (B1 level):

Interlocutor: I am the sports camp instructor. You can’t find your sports equipment. I start. ‘Are you looking for something?’

Example (B2 level):

Interlocutor: We are classmates doing a science project together. You don't think we can finish it on time. You start.

Role play: a few tips

Having briefly illustrated the main features of this section of the exam with two examples, how can teachers help their learners prepare for role playing? Here are a few tips.

Before starting off

  • Create a safe supportive environment in class so that learners can feel comfortable and take risks.
  • Remember some learners might be skeptical about participating. Do not force them to take part. Start the practice session with those who volunteer.
  • Do not expect faultless performances: mistakes are welcome. They are a sign that learners are developing and experimenting with language. Anticipate specific language issues and if they arise, be ready to address them (at the end of the session).
  • Ensure learners are ‘ready’ for this part of the Speaking exam. For example, ensure they possess the related language functions. Be aware that role playing can be quite challenging if the language to be produced needs to be both correct and appropriate.
  • Remember this part of the Speaking test does not only ask them to produce language but also requires them to replicate real-life.
  • Practise role playing early enough and at regular intervals during the term so that learners perform well and sound even more natural on the day.
  • Aim at a positive learning experience for your learners: this will sustain their motivation and attach even more positive connotations to their foreign language experience.
  • Be ready to enjoy your learners’ performance. Asking them to act out everyday situations in class will most probably reveal new and interesting aspects of their personality!

While performing

  • Provide clear instructions initially and a demonstration if necessary so as to guide learners and help them better understand what they are required to do.
  • Closely monitor their role play: some learners tend to speak for themselves and sometimes forget to adhere to the given instructions.
  • Be a ‘facilitator’ ready to intervene whenever learners are stuck so that they do not get discouraged.
  • Avoid jumping in when they make mistakes so as not to demotivate them. Prefer to correct them after they have carried out their role play.
  • Keep track of time and ensure all tasks are short.
  • Use a variety of situations so as to keep the exam preparation period interesting and motivating.
  • When producing a response off-topic, gently guide learners back onto what they were required to do.

Following up

  • Reflect on the learners’ performance, identify possibilities for improvements (intonation, formal or informal style to be adopted etc.) and provide feedback.
  • For further language practice and to involve the whole class, ask learners to suggest other language forms that could have been used during the role play(s).
  • Allow re-runs after your feedback to see if learners have ‘improved’ or ‘upgraded’ their responses.
  • Feel free to re-use certain role plays with different learners, or even record them and invite the class to reflect on their peers’ performance (what they liked and why etc.).
  • Remember you can certainly slightly adapt the role plays you have already used or can create your own ones.
  • Lastly, elicit and discuss a few exam specifications they have learnt through the practice session (e.g. how many situations they may be asked to take part in, how many turns they need to produce).

To wrap up

Role playing can be synonymous with ‘pretending’ but can turn out to be a valuable tool for learners to develop and display their communication skills, an effective technique to increase their engagement and motivation, a unique opportunity to help them experiment with language in a realistic context, not to mention a pleasant ‘excuse’ for fun, variety and a change of pace in class. So the benefits of role play should not be looked down upon, especially when preparing candidates for their upcoming LanguageCert ESOL Speaking B1 and B2 level exams.

Further reading

Lampropoulou, L. (2022). Interactional competence and the role role play plays: The LanguageCert Perspective. International Journal of TESOL Studies, 4(1), 32-47.

LanguageCert, (2020). LanguageCert international ESOL qualification handbook (Speaking). https://  

LanguageCert, (2021). Assessing speaking performance.   

Pekarek Doehler, S. (2019). On the nature and the development of L2 interactional competence: State of the art and implications for praxis. In M. R. Salaberry & S. Kunitz (Eds.), Teaching and testing L2 interactional competence: Bridging theory and practice (25–59). Routledge.


Paul Bouniol

Paul Bouniol