This criterion includes the following aspects:
- Articulation of sounds – how well you pronounce the sounds of the language and if you link the words properly.
- Word and sentence stress – how you single out the correct syllable in a word or the correct words in a sentence.
- Intonation – if your voice is rising and falling and contributes to enhancing the meaning of what you say.
The most frequent mistake here is using one’s native language sounds instead of English sounds. We go into this in a lot of detail in this tutorial.
Also, there are a number of constantly mispronounced sounds depending on your native language. For example Spanish speakers struggle with the “H” sounds, Asians can struggle with “Ls” and “Rs”. You need to be aware of the sounds present in English that are not present in your own language. Here is a useful guide showing the challenges each language group might have with English.
Very often, due to stress, or thinking on their feet, candidates sound monotonous – their intonation is a “flat line”. Or they might make every sentence sound like a question, which is not good.
Don’t worry about your accent; rather try to make sure that you can be understood and pronounce sounds as clearly and as “clear” as possible. Ideally your accent will not take away anything from what you are communicating.
Your exam assessor will consider how frequently you mispronounce words and say something that is difficult to even understand, so make sure you practice clear articulation a lot.
Breathe out and try to relax: the more relaxed you are, the more natural your intonation becomes. We review intonation in greater detail in this tutorial.
Make sure that your intonation helps you to communicate what you mean. Use it when you structure an explanation and support it with examples.
To improve how you enunciate certain words you can turn on the dictation settings in your phone, and then read from some text in front of you. Reading, rather than speaking freely will allow you to entirely focus all your energy on the sound instead of having to think of what to say.
Speak into your phone, and get it all transcribed, the words you are not saying clearly will show up as incorrect on your phone. These are the words you need to improve. In the podcast I mention this in more detail but the key is to find a balance between enunciating for clarity, and sounding natural.
Find a native English speaker that you like on YouTube, listen to him or her extensively and imitate. Adopt their voice, become them, and you will see how your pronunciation will improve.
Remember, even the best answer with brilliant grammar and vocabulary can be drastically affected by incorrect or unclear pronunciation.
IELTS is a challenging exam and there is no ‘magic’ way to get a high band score if your English isn’t good enough. Still, using some of these tips and techniques should help you to perform to the best of your ability and get the level you deserve.
You can download or listen to the audio version here:
YOU MAY READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Female Voice: You are now listening to the IELTS podcast. Learn from tutors and ex-examiners who are masters of IELTS preparation. Your host, Ben Worthington.
Ben: How does an examiner mark your speaking test? This is part 2 of a 4-part series and in this tutorial we will focus specifically on the pronunciation criteria. We’re going to look at some common mistakes the students make. We’re going to look at some useful tips or advice or exercises you can do to improve your pronunciation and I’m going to give you an example of how to enunciate as well because this is very important. Enunciate just basically means speaking in a clearer fashion.
Now then, when we look at the pronunciation criteria, we can break it down into three points. We can look at the articulation of sounds, which is how well you pronounce the sounds of the language and if you link the words properly. So, this goes back to connected speech which we’ll talk about in a second.
|WORD AND SENTENCE STRESS|
Word and sentence stress; can you single out the correct syllable in a word or the correct words– or can you single out the correct words in a sentence? And of course, intonation. Is your voice rising and falling to enhance the ability to communicate?
Now, a lot of people say that I speak quite clearly and the reason why I can or why I do speak clearly is basically from years of teaching English. I quickly recognized that nobody would understand my Yorkshire accent and I wanted the students, my students, I wanted them to be speaking in a neutral fashion, which is what I aim for. Of course, I still have some vowel sounds that come directly from Yorkshire and some people can identify them, but overall, it is quite clear the way I speak.
So, let’s have a look at the most common mistakes that a student might make. So, the first one is using sounds from your own language instead of sounds from the English language and different speakers will have different challenges.
It’s well known that in China, the rest of Asia, the ‘r’– the ‘ls’ sorry, the ‘ls’, it doesn’t seem like it’s a sound that’s pronounced that much in that area, in that continent, so they really struggle with it. It usually comes out as an ‘r’ sound. So, that’s one issue.
Also, with German speakers, they usually pronounce the ‘s’ with a bit of a ‘z’ which makes it sound stronger and with Spanish speakers, it’s the h. They pronounce like hello, like that when it should just be an empty– a breathy ‘h’, hello.
There are lots of different sort of like elements of your own native language that are going to impact how you speak English and I think being aware of these sort of like common pitfalls, so to speak, being aware of these would definitely accelerate your progress, will definitely accelerate your improvement.
Of course, just as we’ve got challenging sounds in English, which of course depend on what your native language is, that’s obviously going to translate into challenging words as well. So, two steps: one, find out which sounds are challenging for native speakers of your own language– sorry, find out which sounds are challenging for speakers of English from your own native language and then find out the words which have those sounds. This way, you can be more aware and you’re going to improve faster.
Now then, the second point: accent. A lot of students want a British accent, for example, or an American accent, but what is a British accent? If we look at Britain we’ve got Scotland, Northern Ireland. We’ve got Wales. We’ve got England, of course. Okay, let’s narrow it down. We’re going to go for an English accent.
Now, what are we talking about? Are we talking about a Scouse from Liverpool, a Mancunian from Manchester? Are we talking– do we want to talk in Received Pronunciation, which is like the Queen? There are lots of different English accents and I personally, I think the best accent is a neutral one or one that can be understood. You do not have to speak like the Queen or like Prince Harry or Prince William or whatever.
You do not have to speak like these people. All you have to do is modify your accent enough to be understood and just as a side note, do not be ashamed of your accent. As soon as I hear somebody with an accent, I instantly have respect for them because they’ve taken the time to learn another language. So, do not be ashamed of your accent. You can work on modifying and improving your accent, but don’t– I wouldn’t aim for going for a specific one.
Your goal here should be understood. Let me give you an example. If a Glaswegian is speaking with a New Yorker, I imagine that in the first minute, neither of them are going to understand each other even though they are both native English speakers.
So, we get this situation. They’re both speaking grammatically perfect English, but they can’t understand each other. So, what’s the solution here? Well, they both have to take steps in trying to modify their accent so that they can be understood by the listener and this is exactly what we need to be doing as well.
Also, just one point that I forgot to mention about your accent, your accent is going to show that you’ve taken action to move, to get out of– to change your situation. Your accent is going to show that you put in the work to learn another language and your accent is going to show your character. So, that’s how you should be thinking about your accent.
Of course, you don’t want to be so proud of it that nobody can understand you. That defeats the purpose, but I wouldn’t be paranoid about it. If people can understand you, that’s fine, that’s fine. Of course, the more neutral it is, the better people are going to understand you. And there are ways, which I’m going to share now in that we can make the comprehension for the listener easier.
Right then, let’s get back to the IELTS. So, your examiner is going to consider how frequently you mispronounce words and say something that’s difficult to understand. So, this is why clear articulation is very important and we’re going to look at an exercise that can help you develop this.
Another element, another piece of advice here; when you’re in the exam, remember to breathe. Breathe out. This will make you more relaxed and you’re more likely to hit this natural intonation. Your intonation is going to sound more natural. Intonation is basically just the rise and fall of your voice when you are speaking.
I’ll give you an example. When we’re using a collocation, collocation is whereby we find the words together in a higher frequency. So, we are more likely to see a group of words together than other groups of words. This is a collocation and because the listener and the speaker know exactly or have a good understanding of the next words coming in that collocation, we tend to say them a little bit quicker. And the listener is expecting them. So, that kind of gives us the permission to say them a little bit quicker as well and this is why collocations are really useful because they help you sound more natural and the listener is expecting them as well.
So, there’s quite a few and sometimes they even take the form phrasal verbs. So, if we just look at a few, we can say do your hair, do exercises, take a seat, make a suggestion, make breakfast, go on a trip. Can you see that we don’t have to enunciate every single part of that fragment? We don’t have to say yes, I went on a trip last week. I can easily just push it together and say yesterday or last week I went on a trip. This is what we want to be aware of when we are speaking.
Dictation software is also a useful tool that we can use if we are keen on improving our pronunciation. This comes as standard in almost every phone nowadays and all you have to do is just maybe open up a notes application and then start reading what you see in front of you aloud into the microphone of your phone and then checking what is getting transcribed.
More than likely, it’s going to butcher your speaking. It even does this with me. However, if I talk in a very clear way and I put an equal amount of stress on each word, then the dictation software gets it right. Now, I do not want you to speak like this in your exam because you’re probably going to scare the examiner if you do.
However, the dictation software will help you identify which words you need to improve. If it can get the pronunciation– if it can get the dictation correct and transcribe it for you into your note application, then you’re probably pronouncing it correctly. If however, it is not transcribing the word correctly, then you probably have to modify your speech. This is good. This is good because you’re learning and you’re going to be improving.
So, just to summarize: find a notes application, enable dictation on your phone and then hold it to your mouth and then just speak. It’s probably better just to read something that’s in front of you so you’re focusing entirely on pronunciation. You don’t have to think about the grammar. You don’t have to think about the vocabulary. You can put all your energy and all your focus on pronunciation and then afterwards you will see which words you need to improve.
Then once you start getting the individual words pronounced correctly, then we can start modifying it and finding the balance between enunciating like in a really patronizing fashion. What I’m saying is you can find a balance between enunciating every single word and also speaking in a natural fashion. This is what we want.
We don’t want it to be too natural and relaxed that it’s just incomprehensible, but we also don’t want to so forced and so– how would you say? Manufactured, that it sounds unnatural. So, this is why the balance is incredibly important.
|ANOTHER USEFUL METHOD: SINGING|
Singing is also a useful method. Find a decent song that you like and then just keep singing it. Find the lyrics. You’re going to feel like an absolute imbecile the first time you do this. This is just natural, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe you won’t feel like an imbecile. I’m just saying that I do feel like an imbecile when I’m singing, but maybe you enjoy singing so that will probably be a good way to improve your pronunciation as well.
Also, just one final thing is speak aloud in your house. I’ve talked about many times my Spanish friend who just wheeled his grandma around the park and he would just speak English at her. She didn’t understand a word, but he needed to develop his speaking skills. So, he just spoke English all the time. If that’s not possible in your situation, at least try and think in English. You’re going to the supermarket, just try and think. Okay, how do I say this in English? Just like commentary.
Now then, I’m getting to the end; just final few words. IELTS is a challenging exam. There is not a magic pill or a magic way to get a high band score if your English isn’t good enough and I see this a lot. I see students obsessing over the IELTS exam when really they should be obsessing over the English ability and then the exam becomes a lot easier. So, just bear that in mind.
There’s not a magic way, but there are definitely systems for you to learn how to write an essay and there are processes to go through where you can improve your writing. The online course we have is a good example of this and as you know, we’re working on a framework for the speaking and of course, for this speaking product that we’ll be launching eventually, we will have to work on a way to improve pronunciation as well.
So, it’s going to– so there’s just a clear reminder that we need to be focusing on most– we need to be aware of all the elements of the exam, not just the exam skills but also the language skills, which in this case is very clearly pronunciation. The framework for the speaking, for example, that would fall under the exam skills.
That’s everything from me today. We’ve got part 2– sorry, part 3 and part 4 coming very soon and if you’ve got any suggestions please email them in to us. If you’re struggling with the IELTS, remember that we are here to help you and send us an email and we can offer you some guidance.
Remember feedback is probably the fastest way to improve. So, if you are a self-study student or maybe you’re just fed-up of this mafia of language courses and intensive language school– intensive language courses which, in my opinion, are an absolute joke then remember that the best way to improve is to get some feedback and even if you are a self-study student that you’re not alone.
We’re here and we can help you and we’ve helped hundreds, probably even thousands of students now. We’ve helped them pass the exam. We’ve helped them improve their score. We’ve helped them move ahead. We’ve helped them start studying medicine, start studying medicine in the UK, to set up the permanent residency application for Australia, for Canada. We’ve helped them before and we can do it again for sure.
So, keep your head up high. Keep pushing, keep working and you will get there. That’s everything from me and have a great day and thank you for listening.
Female Voice: Thanks for listening to ieltspodcast.com