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  • Writer's pictureSte Sharpe

IELTS Myth...native-speaker accent

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During my many years of teaching and examining IELTS, I’ve heard some strange IELTS myths about what IELTS is and how it works. Some have been more shocking than others, but one IELTS myth that ALWAYS stands out for me is…

‘You have to have sound like a native speaker to get a high band score’

If you want to know my thoughts on this IELTS myth, read on…

What is ‘accent?’

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, accent means ‘the way in which people in a particular area, country or social group pronounce words’. An example between British and American English is the word ‘where’. In British English, we don’t pronounce the ‘r’ sound at the end /weə/, but in American English they do pronounce the ‘r’ sound /weər/.

Accents don’t just apply to English; they’re also true for other languages (e.g., Spanish spoken in Spain and Spanish spoken in Argentina; French spoken in France and French spoken in Canada).

How is my pronunciation scored in IELTS?

The IELTS Speaking Test uses four descriptors to evaluate your speaking skills: fluency and coherence; lexical resources, grammatical range and accuracy; pronunciation (a series of blog posts on these are coming soon!).

If we look at the ‘Pronunciation’ descriptors for band 8 and 9 (publicly available here), we can see that there is no mention of having a 'native-like accent’. The key is ‘intelligibility’ which basically means ‘is your accent clear enough for the examiner to understand you’.

Why do students think they need to have a native-speaker accent?

I’m not sure where this IELTS myth came from; maybe it’s to do with their obsession with sounding British or American, or some historical influence.

The point is that students DO NOT have to have a native-speaker accent to achieve a high band score in the IELTS Speaking Test. The importance is improving your ‘intelligibility’ (ensuring your accent is clear so that the examiner can understand what you’re saying).

How can I improve pronunciation?

Improving your pronunciation is all about ‘exposure’. This means being surrounded by people who speak in a certain way in a specific place. When you do this, you naturally pick up the accent and start speaking the way they do. If I think of my own experience of this, when I lived in Quebec, Canada for 2 years, I was surrounded by the Quebecois accent and therefore started speaking French like this. Also, when I was at university, one of my housemates was from Leeds, so I started saying certain words with a Leeds accent, which confused a few people when we went out.

For those who can’t move to another country, technology is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation. You can watch TV shows, movies and TedTalks, listen to podcasts and the radio. When you do this, you can listen and repeat certain words, phrases or whole sentences that the speakers say. I’ve met many students from all over the world who have improved their English by watching ‘Friends’ and speak with an American accent thanks to this technique.

So, what do I do now?

If you want to improve your accent for the IELTS Speaking Test and bust this IELTS myth, check out my online IELTS Speaking Course where you’ll not only learn all about the IELTS speaking test format, but you’ll also improve your speaking skills and overall pronunciation to ensure the examiner can understand what you’re saying on the test day.

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