Pronunciation

In this post, we will be looking in-depth at pronunciation

While you are preparing for your IELTS Speaking Test it is important that you understand the marking criteria. Pronunciation counts for 25% of your speaking score, therefore it is vital that you understand what the examiner wants. Getting individual sounds correct is really important in order to gain a band score of 5 or higher.

You will be able to achieve a higher score if you can demonstrate your ability to form individual sounds correctly; word stress, sentence stress, intonation (pitch), pausing and chunking, elision (dropping individual sounds), assimilation (changing individual sounds when you speak quickly) and linking (moving sounds from the end of one word to the beginning of the next). 

In the IELTS Speaking Test, any form of pronunciation from British, American, Canadian, Australian etc is accepted. 


Pronunciation

Pronunciation is the act or manner of speaking a word. Many words in English are not pronounced the way they are spelt, and some sounds can be represented by more than one combination of letters. 

One of the most important aspects of the IELTS Speaking Test is pronunciation. Without clear pronunciation, it is difficult to make yourself understood.

Native speakers emphasise the most important words in a sentence by pronouncing them slowly and loudly. Have you ever noticed this?

For example. watch the video clip below from the Friends TV show, where you will hear Chandler saying sentences with an emphasis on certain words. He was well known for talking like this and it is a good example of how you can change the meaning of words or sentences depending on where you put the stress.


Word Stress

When you are speaking English the words you stress can change the underlying meaning of a sentence.

For example, look at the following sentence:

I don't think that is a good idea.

This simple sentence can have many levels of meaning based on the word you stress. Consider the meaning of the following sentences with the stressed word in bold. Read each sentence aloud and give a strong stress to the word in bold:

  • I don't think that is a good idea.

Meaning - other people might think it is a good idea.

  • I don't think that is a good idea.

Meaning - it's not true that I think it is a good idea.

  • I don't think that is a good idea.

Meaning - I'm not sure if it is a good idea.

There is a great deal of evidence that native speakers rely very much on the stress pattern of words when they are listening. In fact, experiments have demonstrated that often when a native speaker mishears a word, it is because the foreigner has put the stress in the wrong place, not because he or she mispronounced the sound of the word.
— Joanne Kenworthy, Teaching English Pronunciation. Longman, 1987

Punctuation

Use punctuation to help your pronunciation by adding a pause after each period, comma, semicolon or colon. By using punctuation to guide you when you pause, you will begin to speak in a more natural manner.

For example;

I'm going to visit my friends in London. They have a beautiful house in Chelsea, so I'm staying with them for one week.

In this example, pause after 'London' and 'Chelsea'. This will help anyone who's listening to you follow you more easily. On the other hand, if you rush through the sentences, where the periods and commas (and other punctuation marks) would be, your pronunciation will sound unnatural and it will be difficult for listeners to follow your thoughts.


Intonation

Intonation means the raising and the lowering of the voice when speaking. In other words, intonation refers to the voice rising and falling. We use the pitch of our voice to change the meaning of what we are saying.

For example, look at the questions below and then say them out loud, raising your voice on the last words, this allows the listener to know you are asking them a question >>

Raising Your Voice at the End of a Question
 
If the question is a yes / no question, the voice rises at the end of a question.

Do you like living in Greece?
Have you lived here a long time?
Did you visit any of the Ionian Islands last month?

Falling Voice at the End of a Question

If the question is an information question - in other words, if you are asking a question with 'where', 'when', 'what', 'which', 'why', 'what / which kind of..', and questions with 'how' - let your voice fall at then end of a question.

Where are you going to stay on holiday this year?
When did you leave your town?
How long have you lived in the UK?

When using a question to clarify some information, let your voice rise to let the listener know that you expect more information.

Jane isn't going to be at the restaurant, is she?
You understand your position here, don't you?
We aren't expected to finish the assignment by Tuesday, are we?

We also use a specific type of intonation when using commas in a list. 

For example;

John enjoys playing volleyball, swimming, kayaking, and quad biking.

In this example, the voice rises after each item in the list. For the final item, let the voice fall.  In other words, 'volleyball', 'swimming', and 'kayaking' all rise in intonation. The final activity, 'quad biking', falls in intonation.

Practice with a few more examples;

We bought some gluten free pasta, bananas, orange juice and potatoes.
Maria wants to go to New York, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens.


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