In this tutorial you will learn:
- What it means to display a full range of pronunciation features with precision and subtlety in a Band 9 answer
This will help you in your IELTS Speaking exam because:
- You will learn what are pronunciation features and how to use them effectively in your answer
- You will see successful examples of sentence stress and intonation used in a Band 9 speaking answer.
Achieving Band 9 in pronunciation on the IELTS test often seems an insurmountable task to candidates.
First, because they do not always understand what pronunciation features are and how they are supposed to be used and second, because they are intimidated, they might need to sound exactly like native speakers, be they British, American or Australian.
Let’s throw some light on what pronunciation features are, how they work and how to make use of them to your best advantage at the exam.
Pronunciation (or phonological) features tested in IELTS or any other high-stake English examination include
- the pronunciation of individual sounds
- word and sentence stress
I. Individual sounds are the sound elements of the words we pronounce. These are the following:
• Pronounced vowels, as in man – men, ship – sheep.
• Diphthongs, when two vowels are said together to produce one sound, for instance post – paste, sure – sour.
• Consonants, for instance pin – ping, van – fan.
If there are any errors in the way you form English sounds or they are too similar to the sounds of your native language, your answer will not reach the level of Band 9.
Make sure your sounds are articulated accurately, and do not create confusion when you pronounce them.
For instance, in the sentence
Being bilingual or multilingual will help extend your networking opportunities worldwide.
the words being, bilingual, help, and worldwide might be challenging to pronounce for some speakers, so make sure that being doesn’t sound like bin, help is not pronounced as elp, and worldwide doesn’t sound like worldwide.
II. Word and sentence stress
Stress is the emphasis placed on a syllable in a word or a word in a sentence.
Word stress. Words with two or more syllables have one syllable which stands out from the rest because it is pronounced more loudly and clearly, and is longer than the others.
For instance, the word important is pronounced as imPORtant and not IMportant. Words stress is a particularly relevant feature as it may also distinguish between words, like proTEST (verb) vs PROtest (noun).
Accuracy in using word stress is compulsory for achieving Band 9. If there is no confusion in the way you place stress in the words you pronounce, you’re doing great.
Have a look at the correct positioning of word stress in the following sentence from a Band 9 answer.
That’s how you will be able to eSTAblish LASting conNECtions and cross-CULtural FRIENDships with FOreign CO-workers.
Sentence stress is used to indicate important meaning by placing more emphasis on one word in a sentence and can often cardinally change meaning. e.g. WHY is that one important? vs Why is THAT one important?
When used correctly, sentence stress can be particularly effective in conveying emphasis in your speech and highlighting the right idea in your argument or explanation.
For example, see how the words in capitals help underline key points in the sentence.
If you speak a language like ENGLISH or MANDARIN, you will be able to work for NOT only LOCAL but GLOBAL businesses as WELL, with the perk of QUITE a decent salary.
IMPORTANT! This example of sentence stress use also fulfils the Band 9 Pronunciation criterion of “using [a full range of pronunciation features] with precision and subtlety”. This means that a skilful use of phonological aspects in your speech speech greatly contributes to the best expression of the message you intend to convey and leaves no ambiguity about it.
III. Intonation is defined as the way the voice rises and falls. A combination of rises and falls in connected speech makes it pleasant, melodic and easy to follow.
Intonation is by far the most complex pronunciation feature and it is indeed able to convey a variety of states and attitudes – enthusiasm or boredom, engagement or indifference, irritation or disagreement. English is considered to be a somewhat challenging language by many learners because learning how to use intonation appropriately and not sound rude or ridiculous due to a mere wrong voice slip might be complicated.
Remember that intonation is used to convey the speaker’s mood, to support meaning or to indicate new information. Precision and subtlety, in this case, refers to modulating your intonation in order to make sure you cover ALL these functions.
Another piece of advice to make sure your exam mark is above band 7 is being and staying natural. Very often relaxing and simply speaking your mind and feelings will give your speech a natural melody and you will instinctively emphasize important facts, examples and mark your opinion.
Conversely, being tense and overstressed will inevitably make your speech dull, monotonous and flat. At the same time don’t overdo it and don’t add unnecessary dramatic tone to the way you speak.
This will not be appreciated highly by the examiner. Don’t be afraid of making very short pauses for effect – make sure they are a natural part of your discourse though.
Have a look at a complete answer to a Part 3 exam question assessed by Band 9 for Pronunciation.
Observe how using rising tone combined with emphasis by sentence stress on various words and phrases adds engagement and energy to the examinee’s answer as well as that much wanted precision and subtlety in using various pronunciation features. Also, don’t forget that except questions, most statement sentences in English end in a falling tone.
QS: Why do people want to learn a foreign language?
Well [slight pause] long story short [rising tone], that’s because it’s INDISPENSABLE in modern society. Truth be told [rising tone], language learning has LONG moved from being a hobby [rising tone] and ACTUALLY turned into a TREND. Why? [falling tone for this question] I [emphasis] guess that is due to SEVERAL INDISPUTABLE advantages in terms of employment [rising tone], relationships [rising tone] and even health [falling tone with emphasis].
First [rising tone], speaking MORE than one language can open up a WORLD of employment opportunities for job seekers, ESPECIALLY [rising tone] if THAT language is widely used in BUSINESS context. If you speak a language like ENGLISH or MANDARIN, you will be able to work for NOT only LOCAL [rising tone] but GLOBAL businesses as WELL, with the perk of QUITE a decent salary.
Second [rising tone], being bilingual or MULTIlingual will help extend your networking worldwide. That’s how you will be able to stablish… sorry … ESTABLISH LASTING connections and cross-cultural friendships with FOREIGN co-workers or even LOCAL people while traveling.
And third [rising tone], the BRAIN will also benefit greatly from the learning activity. Research has shown that studying another language [rising tone] helps prevent degenerative illnesses like… what’s the name… Alzheimer’s. TO TOP IT ALL OFF [rising tone], it can also keep you more mentally AGILE [rising tone], and EVEN reinforce your memory. So [rising tone] [slight pause], what’s there not to LOVE and WANT about learning a foreign language!
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