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  • Writer's pictureSte Sharpe

IELTS Speaking test criteria- pronunciation

Lips speaking for pronunciation
Lips speaking

This is the final of 4 blog posts explaining the IELTS Speaking test criteria in simple terms.

My first post was about Fluency and Coherence, the second one was about Lexical Resource and the third one was about Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

This post will look at ‘Pronunciation’.

As an IELTS Speaking test candidate, it’s really important that you understand how the examiner will assess your level of spoken English during the exam, so that you can understand what is expected of you at each band score.

Want to know all about Pronunciation… start reading below.

What is ‘Pronunciation’?

Simply put, ‘Pronunciation’ is all about how we say words.

We make sounds based on the movement of our tongue, lips and jaw, and whether the sound is voiced (our voice box vibrates) or voiceless (there’s just air that comes from our lungs).

Some students struggle to make certain sounds in English because they don’t know how to move their tongue, lips and jaw.

For example:

‘Work’ /wɜ:k/ you need to push your jaw forward a little and make a round shape with your lips to pronounce the sound ‘erh’.

‘Vest’ /vest/ you need to push your bottom lip from between your teeth.

The way people speak is due to their surroundings. People from different parts of a country say words differently as they grew up in that area and were exposed to people speaking that way. We get our accents by listening to them speak that way and repeating it. As you get older, your accent might change based on where you move to. In a previous blog post, I talked about my time living in Quebec. I started to speak French with a Quebecois accent as I was surrounded by it all day, every day.

In the IELTS Speaking test, your Pronunciation is assessed on the following points:

Rhythm and stress = the words which you say louder than others.

For example:

I went to the cinema with my family and friends last night.

Intonation = the way your voice goes up and down to show meaning.

For example:

I think the new boss is OK, but honestly (rising intonation), I don’t think they’ll last long here.

Linking sounds = how consonant sounds at the end of a word join to a vowel sound at the beginning of the next word.

For example:

‘Not at all’ sounds like ‘no ta tall’

I had to give up (givup) exercising because of (becausov) my injured arm (injure darm) .

Individual sounds = how you say certain sounds without affecting meaning.

For example:

There are lots of beople (people) in my city.

When I alive (arrive) home, I’ll finish my homework.

Accent = how your accent affects how well the examiner can understand what you’re saying.

What is the difference between a band 6 and band 7 for Pronunciation?

If you look at the IELTS Speaking test band descriptors, you’ll see the main difference between a band 6 score and a band 7 score.

For this descriptor, band 7 uses a mixture of band 6 and band 8 points.

To help you understand this better, I’ve summarised these difference in the table below:

Pronunciation: Band 6

Pronunciation: Band 8

Rhythm might be affected by a fast speech rate and a lack of stressed-timing.

Can use appropriate rhythm and stress-timing.

Can use some intonation and stress correctly, but not all the time.

Can use intonation and stress correctly in long stretches of speech.

Individual words might be said incorrectly, but this does not cause many issues with clarity.

Individual words are said correctly, with some minor errors.

Accent can be generally understood without much effort from the examiner.

Accent can be understood by the examiner.

When I was an IELTS examiner, I found that test takers struggled to reach a band 7 and above in Pronunciation for two main reasons:

-talking at a fast rate due to nerves, meaning I couldn’t hear or understand every word.

-their accent caused issues with understanding.

How can I improve my Pronunciation?

In my previous blog post, I talked about the importance of ‘exposure’ to help improve your grammar and this also applies to Pronunciation.

The way we pronounce words is based on our surroundings. People pronounce words in a particular way as they grew up in that area. I remember during my last year at university, one of my housemates was from Leeds (in the north of the UK) and I started to say words in the same way that she did as we spent so much time together.

So, how can you ‘expose’ yourself to English to improve your pronunciation when you’re not living in an English-speaking country? Below are some tips to help you:

Watch TV shows/movies: I’ve met several students who learnt English or improved their pronunciation by watching ‘Friends’. They would watch it and repeat certain words/phrases/full sentences in exactly the same way as one of the characters. This technique of ‘listen-repeat-listen-repeat’ is known as ‘shadowing’ and is very effective in helping you to practise moving your tongue, lips and jaw to speak like your favourite character; it’ll also help you with stress-timing and linking sounds, as I mentioned above.

Podcasts: Similar to the suggestion above, when you listen to podcasts, try to copy what and how they say something: listen-pause-repeat-rewind-listen-pause…

Lip movement: As I wrote about earlier, how we make sounds all depends on the movement of the tongue, lips and jaw. I always encourage my students to watch news presenters in English and pay close attention to how they move their lips when they’re speaking.

Record yourself speaking: Try to speak about a topic for 1-2 mins (very similar to the IELTS Speaking Test part 2), then listen and see if you can understand all the words. Also, make notes on any words/sounds you struggled with and practise saying them.

Practise speaking: You need to have regular conversations in English with proficient speakers to help you practise saying these sounds.

Feedback: Receiving feedback from your teacher about the errors you make and how to correct them is an effective way to improve your pronunciation. After all, we teachers are here to help you improve!

Practise saying tongue twisters: These are sentences which contain the same/similar sounds in every word. Every language has them and it’s fun to try to say them fast. An example of one is:

‘She sells seashells on the sea shore. The shells that she sells are seashells, I’m sure.’

You can access some examples of useful tongue twisters.

Learn about the Phonemic Chart: This chart represents all the 44 sounds in the English language. It might look like a completely new alphabet, but each symbol shows how to say a particular sound. All dictionary entries have a ‘phonemic script’ which shows you how to say a word.

For example:

‘Photographer’ /fəˈtɒgrəfə/

This video gives a clear explanation and some examples of how to pronounce all the sounds in the Phonemic Chart.

You can also access an online dictionary to not only see the meaning of the word, but also hear how to say it.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, IELTS is an evaluation of your current level of English. If you want to get a band 7, your overall English skills already need to be at that level, so it’s crucial that you practise your general English skills to help you increase your range of vocabulary.

So, what do I do now?

If you want to improve your Pronunciation for the IELTS Speaking Test, check out my online IELTS Speaking Course where you’ll not only learn all about the IELTS Speaking test format, but you’ll also have chance to focus on different aspects of pronunciation and get feedback on your pronunciation from me to ensure the examiner can understand you better on the test day.

You can also join my Telegram Channel (see the link at the bottom of the web page) where you’ll receive free resources to develop your language skills.

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