How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: 1: ‘Good’ pronunciation
Speaking
How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: 1: ‘Good’ pronunciation

This is the first of a six-part blog series focusing on pronunciation: what 'good' pronunciation is, why it's important, and how to improve your pronunciation in preparation for your IELTS Speaking test. What is ‘good’ pronunciation? Why is it important? Before we begin, I want you to think about someone you know who you think has ‘good’ English pronunciation. Answer these two questions:  What does it mean to have ‘good’ pronunciation?  Why is ‘good’ pronunciation important?  Most people would probably answer these questions as follows: 1. ‘Good’ pronunciation means pronouncing the words and sounds of a language correctly and clearly. 2. ‘Good’ pronunciation is important because it makes it easier to understand what someone is saying. If you answered the questions in this way, then you are partly correct: ‘good’ pronunciation is important because it affects how easy it is to understand what someone is saying. However, pronouncing words and sounds correctly and clearly is only one part of ‘good’ pronunciation.   Two examples To understand why ‘good’ pronunciation means more than pronouncing words and sounds correctly, I’d like you to watch two videos. First, watch the start of the videos and answer these questions: What hobbies has Tina chosen? {"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video_thumbnails/m0UGhSufSJk.jpg?itok=GRAh6L9z","video_url":"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0UGhSufSJk","settings":{"responsive":1,"width":"854","height":"480","autoplay":0},"settings_summary":["Embedded Video (Responsive)."]}   What kind of people does Anuradha say become famous in Malaysia? {"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video_thumbnails/6IeEgRkpIvU.jpg?itok=GmcwZHMV","video_url":"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IeEgRkpIvU","settings":{"responsive":1,"width":"854","height":"480","autoplay":0},"settings_summary":["Embedded Video (Responsive)."]}   Tina likes shopping, picnics and volunteering; Anuradha says politicians become famous in Malaysia now.  You probably thought that Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’ than Tina’s, but why is this?  Watch the first part of the videos again. What do you think makes Anuradha’s pronunciation ‘better’?   Perhaps the first thing you noticed about Tina’s speech is her strong L1 accent (an accent from her first language), which affects her pronunciation of individual words and sounds. ‘Interest’ sounds like ‘idrisde’; ‘shopping’ sounds like ‘sopping’; ‘stressed’ sounds like ‘stret’; ‘clothes’ sounds like ‘clo’ - she often misses the sounds off the end of words, in fact. The examiner comments, ‘She has a strong accent with a number of poorly formed sounds and systematic omission of word endings’.  In contrast, Anuradha does not have a strong L1 accent, which means all words and sounds are clear and easy for an English speaker to understand. The examiner comments on her ‘clear pronunciation of individual words and sounds’ making her ‘effortless to understand’.      So Anuradha’s pronunciation of words and sounds is more ‘correct’ than Tina’s, and the examiners commented on this. This is one of the reasons Anuradha achieved a Band 9.0, and Tina a Band 5.0. But is this the only reason Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’? Did you notice any other differences? Use of ‘features’ If we look at the examiner’s comments on Tina’s pronunciation, they also say: The ‘rhythm’ of her speech is often ‘syllable-timed’ She speaks ‘too rapidly’ In contrast, the examiner says that Anuradha: Uses a ‘range’ of ‘features’ Has a ‘sustained’ ‘rhythm’ Uses ‘stress’ and ‘intonation’ to ‘good effect’ These are all quite technical words, so don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean at this stage – we will be looking at these terms in detail in Blogs 3-5.  However, what these comments tell us is that IELTS Speaking examiners are interested in more than your pronunciation of words and sounds. In fact, if we look at the IELTS Speaking descriptors, we can see that candidates’ speaking is assessed on two scales:     1. Pronouncing words and sounds correctly. This is closely connected to not having a strong L1 accent, and how easy a candidate is to understand. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates pronounce most words and sounds correctly, and they are generally easy to understand.   2. Using a range of pronunciation features. This is related to the terms – stress, intonation and rhythm – that we saw in the examiners’ comments about Tina’s and Anuradha’s pronunciation. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates use a range of features effectively.    ‘Good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test Putting all this together, we can summarise the meaning of ‘good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test as follows:    (Click to enlarge) ‘Clear’ and ‘effective’ pronunciation If you are preparing for your IELTS Speaking test and you want to improve your pronunciation, don’t worry about whether your pronunciation is ‘good’ or not, or how you can make your pronunciation ‘better’. Instead, ask the following questions: 1. Is my pronunciation clear? Do I pronounce the words and sounds of English correctly so that they are easy to understand? 2. Is my pronunciation effective? Do I use a range of pronunciation features effectively to make my message clear? Whether you answer these questions yourself, or get feedback from someone you know, the first question is probably much easier to answer than the second.  However, by the end of this Blog series, you will hopefully know the answer to both these questions, as well as what you need to do to make your pronunciation clearer and more effective.   What’s next?    In Blog 2, we will focus on what we mean by ‘clear’ pronunciation, and how you can develop it. In Blogs 3-5, we will focus on the pronunciation features we have identified – stress, intonation and rhythm – and how you can use these to communicate your message more effectively.  Paul

Paul Dixon

7 July, 2021

How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: 1: ‘Good’ pronunciation

How to improve your pronunciation for IELTS: 1: ‘Good’ pronunciation

This is the first of a six-part blog series focusing on pronunciation: what 'good' pronunciation is, why it's important, and how to improve your pronunciation in preparation for your IELTS Speaking test.

What is ‘good’ pronunciation? Why is it important?

Before we begin, I want you to think about someone you know who you think has ‘good’ English pronunciation. Answer these two questions:

  1. What does it mean to have ‘good’ pronunciation?
  2. Why is ‘good’ pronunciation important?

Most people would probably answer these questions as follows:

1. ‘Good’ pronunciation means pronouncing the words and sounds of a language correctly and clearly.

2. ‘Good’ pronunciation is important because it makes it easier to understand what someone is saying.

If you answered the questions in this way, then you are partly correct: ‘good’ pronunciation is important because it affects how easy it is to understand what someone is saying. However, pronouncing words and sounds correctly and clearly is only one part of ‘good’ pronunciation.  

Two examples

To understand why ‘good’ pronunciation means more than pronouncing words and sounds correctly, I’d like you to watch two videos.

First, watch the start of the videos and answer these questions:

  • What hobbies has Tina chosen?

 

  • What kind of people does Anuradha say become famous in Malaysia?

 

Tina likes shopping, picnics and volunteering; Anuradha says politicians become famous in Malaysia now.

You probably thought that Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’ than Tina’s, but why is this? Watch the first part of the videos again. What do you think makes Anuradha’s pronunciation ‘better’?  

Perhaps the first thing you noticed about Tina’s speech is her strong L1 accent (an accent from her first language), which affects her pronunciation of individual words and sounds. ‘Interest’ sounds like ‘idrisde’; ‘shopping’ sounds like ‘sopping’; ‘stressed’ sounds like ‘stret’; ‘clothes’ sounds like ‘clo’ - she often misses the sounds off the end of words, in fact. The examiner comments, ‘She has a strong accent with a number of poorly formed sounds and systematic omission of word endings’.

In contrast, Anuradha does not have a strong L1 accent, which means all words and sounds are clear and easy for an English speaker to understand. The examiner comments on her ‘clear pronunciation of individual words and sounds’ making her ‘effortless to understand’.    

So Anuradha’s pronunciation of words and sounds is more ‘correct’ than Tina’s, and the examiners commented on this. This is one of the reasons Anuradha achieved a Band 9.0, and Tina a Band 5.0. But is this the only reason Anuradha’s pronunciation is ‘better’? Did you notice any other differences?

Use of ‘features’

If we look at the examiner’s comments on Tina’s pronunciation, they also say:

  • The ‘rhythm’ of her speech is often ‘syllable-timed’
  • She speaks ‘too rapidly’

In contrast, the examiner says that Anuradha:

  • Uses a ‘range’ of ‘features’
  • Has a ‘sustained’ ‘rhythm’
  • Uses ‘stress’ and ‘intonation’ to ‘good effect’

These are all quite technical words, so don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean at this stage – we will be looking at these terms in detail in Blogs 3-5.

However, what these comments tell us is that IELTS Speaking examiners are interested in more than your pronunciation of words and sounds. In fact, if we look at the IELTS Speaking descriptors, we can see that candidates’ speaking is assessed on two scales:    

1. Pronouncing words and sounds correctly. This is closely connected to not having a strong L1 accent, and how easy a candidate is to understand. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates pronounce most words and sounds correctly, and they are generally easy to understand.  

2. Using a range of pronunciation features. This is related to the terms – stress, intonation and rhythm – that we saw in the examiners’ comments about Tina’s and Anuradha’s pronunciation. At Band 6.0 and above, candidates use a range of features effectively.  

‘Good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test

Putting all this together, we can summarise the meaning of ‘good’ pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test as follows:  

Pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test

(Click to enlarge)

‘Clear’ and ‘effective’ pronunciation

If you are preparing for your IELTS Speaking test and you want to improve your pronunciation, don’t worry about whether your pronunciation is ‘good’ or not, or how you can make your pronunciation ‘better’. Instead, ask the following questions:

1. Is my pronunciation clear? Do I pronounce the words and sounds of English correctly so that they are easy to understand?

2. Is my pronunciation effective? Do I use a range of pronunciation features effectively to make my message clear?

Whether you answer these questions yourself, or get feedback from someone you know, the first question is probably much easier to answer than the second.

However, by the end of this Blog series, you will hopefully know the answer to both these questions, as well as what you need to do to make your pronunciation clearer and more effective.  

What’s next?   

In Blog 2, we will focus on what we mean by ‘clear’ pronunciation, and how you can develop it. In Blogs 3-5, we will focus on the pronunciation features we have identified – stress, intonation and rhythm – and how you can use these to communicate your message more effectively.

Paul

Paul Dixon

Originally from the UK but now living in New Zealand, Paul has been helping people prepare for the IELTS test since 2005. His main teaching interests are helping learners improve their pronunciation and develop their reading skills.

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