In this post, I will focus on the speaking subskill of pronunciation.
How is pronunciation tested in the IELTS Speaking test?
The descriptor Pronunciation assesses 3 main areas of pronunciation.
The range of pronunciation features you use. When you look at the individual band scores for the descriptors, you'll see phrases such as ‘uses a full range of features’ in band 9, ‘a range’ in band 6 and ‘a limited range’ in band 4.
The level of control you have over these features. For example, you'll see the phrase ‘sustains flexible use’ in bands 8 and 9 and ‘lapses are frequent’ in band 4.
How easy your pronunciation is to understand. For example, a band 9 candidate would be ‘effortless to understand’ while a band 6 candidate ‘can be generally understood, though mispronunciation of individual words and sounds reduces clarity at times’.
Which features of pronunciation are tested
To get a good score for pronunciation, it’s important to be familiar with the different features of pronunciation that are assessed in the IELTS Speaking test. Below is a summary of all the different features you'll need to be aware of…and practise!
Accuracy: This is often related to your use of individual sounds. There are three main types of sounds in English – vowels, consonants and diphthongs. You can learn more about these by studying the phonemic chart. It’s quite likely that there’ll be certain sounds in English that you‘ll find more difficult to produce accurately than others, and this will normally be related to your first language. For example, it may be that a specific sound does not exist in your first language.
Word stress: This means placing the stress or emphasis on the correct syllable in a word – for example, the word computer has three syllables and the stress is placed on the second syllable – comPUter. Your use of word stress can affect how easy you are to understand.
Sentence stress: This involves the individual word or words in a sentence that you choose to emphasise. It’s different from word stress in that it’s used to convey meaning. For example, in the phrase ‘she called you yesterday’, we could choose to stress the word ‘you’, to make it clear that you are the person she called, or ‘yesterday’ to make it clear which day it was.
Weak sounds: English words contain a lot of weak syllable sounds, (represented by the phonetic symbol called the ‘schwa’ /ə/). You can hear this sound in the first syllable of the word ‘about’. Knowing which syllables in a word have these sounds can make your English pronunciation sound more natural.
Intonation: Intonation describes the way in which our voice rises and falls when we speak. The main issue students are likely to face with intonation is sounding ‘flat’ or ‘monotone’ due to not having enough variety of intonation. This can be the result of speaking a language which has less varied intonation, but also from reciting a prepared script.
What resources can I use to improve my pronunciation for the IELTS Speaking Test?
1. Use model answers as a resource for practising pronunciation
Both the recordings of model answers or the printed tape scripts that you find in the back of your IELTS coursebook can be great resources for working on your pronunciation. If you’re using a recording, you could practise listening out for a particular feature (such as sentence stress or weak sounds), note them down and then practise saying them yourself. Or you could practise marking up a feature of pronunciation on a printed script (e.g. highlight all the words that you think the speaker will stress) and then listen, check and practise.
2. Record yourself speaking
Recording yourself talking about a typical IELTS Speaking topic and then listening out for both good examples of the features of pronunciation as well as any errors can be a very effective way of improving your pronunciation. You may find it easier to swap recordings with a friend and to correct each other, as it can be difficult to recognise mistakes in your own speaking.
3. Use speech recognition software
As an alternative to recording yourself, you could use a free speech recognition software, such as Speechnotes to identify your pronunciation errors. To use Speechnotes, you speak into a microphone, and a transcript of what you are saying appears on the screen. Do be aware that voice recognition software is not always 100% accurate; however, it can still be a useful way of identifying words that you may be mispronouncing.
Pronunciation may not receive as much attention as fluency, vocabulary and grammar, particularly in IELTS coursebooks, but remember that it’s still worth 25% of your Speaking test score, and taking a bit of time to work on it could really boost your score!
I hope you enjoyed this series on Speaking! If you have any questions or comments please do share these with us on Facebook or Instagram. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for how I can help you.