The IELTS speaking test is like an informal interview that lasts from 11 to 14 minutes. It is divided into three parts:
- Part I is more about getting to know you through easy everyday topics.
- Part II is a prepared speech on a given topic.
- Part III is a discussion loosely connected to the subject in Part II.
The IELTS speaking test is evaluated on four different criteria: fluency and accuracy, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Each criterion is 25% towards your speaking band.
Pronunciation is all about clear enunciation of individual sounds, connected speech, rhythm, word, and sentence stress, chunking, and intonation. It involves the flow of language with appropriate pausing for word stressing and sentence stress. It also involves the skillful use of rising and falling intonation to support the meaning and attitude of the speaker.
The most important element in pronunciation is that you should be easily understood by the person speaking to you. Many candidates feel, if I copy a British or American accent then I will get a higher band. This is not a correct notion. Copying a native accent is not important however correct pronunciation is. So, work on speaking clearly and naturally.
The top reasons for having an unclear pronunciation are due to mother tongue influence i.e., speaking English with a heavy Punjabi or Hindi accent. L1 also known as your mother language should have minimal interference so that you are easily understood by others Speaking too fast is not fluency but unnatural and difficult for the listener to understand. Speaking too slowly with unnatural pausing, hesitations, false starts and retracting also indicate problems in accessing language.
In the English language, it is interesting to note that all the words are made up of only 44 to 48 individual sounds known as phonemes and not all these sounds are necessarily pronounced in the mother language you speak. Therefore, they are never properly developed or practised. It is very important to identify those sounds and practice them using the phonemic chart. Correct enunciation in IELTS speaking is very important. Some candidates have difficulty with correct word pronunciation because of some pronunciation features like word stress and sentence stress, silent letters, rising and falling intonation. Use pronunciation drills for sounds you have trouble making.
Words that are both nouns and verbs have a different word stress pattern.
- He gave me a present. (noun)
- He presented a gift. (verb)
- I signed the con (noun)
- The hot metal contracted as it cooled. (verb)
Some letters in words are silent letters and not pronounced.
- Silent B – bomb, climb, comb, lamb
- Silent K - knife, knee, knit, know
- Silent H – hour, echo, school, honest
- Silent W – wrap, wreck, wrong, write
Here are some phonemics sounds that are difficult and frequently mispronounced by candidates. Look at the following examples.
S Sh Z
School Chef Rise
Race Dash Zip
Sock She Was
Cement Wish Plays
Homophones are words that sound similar but spelling and meaning are different. These confuse candidates.
Intonation is about how we say things, rather than what we say. It can make a difference between a question, statement, or comment. Here are some examples of rising tone in questions and statements for practice.
- Are you SCARED?
- Is this YOURS?
- Where are you FROM?
- She is ten years OLD.
- He does not have a CAR.
- I have not read this BOOK.
These are some examples of falling tone in statements and questions.
- This is the end of the news.
- Stop talking.
- Nice to meet you.
- Dad wants to change his car.
- You live in Spain, don’t you?
- The film was horrible, wasn’t it?
Nowadays there are so many resources online for practice. Here are some useful interactive websites where you can practice individual sounds, stress, and connected speech on your own.
It is very important to expose yourself to a world of authentic English speech.
- Watch English movies, news, and other programmes in English.
- Listen to the radio while driving or working.
- Listen to native and international speakers on social media and YouTube discuss issues and debates.
- You should make a note of stress, intonation, correct pronunciation, and rate of speech for example.
- Speaking is a skill like cycling or driving. To improve your speaking, you must start speaking the language.
- You could identify friends, family, or your colleagues with whom you can practice daily for a few hours at least.
- You could also join Facebook groups on learning English or make international friends on social media and talk to them.
- Another way is to practice speaking on everyday topics for one to two minutes and record yourself. Listen and notice your own mistakes and self-correct.
- You could also take the help of an English teacher who would help you to correct your mistakes. You could practice by simply reading a passage out loud for pronunciation.
- Even repeating lines from a TV show can help to improve your pronunciation.
- You can practice in front of a mirror too.
- You should always use or refer to an online dictionary like the Cambridge English Dictionary for the correct spelling, meaning usage, and pronunciation of a new word.
Next, you should work on organising your thoughts before you speak. It is also a very important aspect of sounding fluent and coherent. These are two important traits of a good speaker of English. So, practice speaking in a flow without unnatural pauses, hesitations, false starts, and retracting. Before you talk, you should systematically organise your thoughts and ideas and then frame the sentences so that you are understood easily. You should think of all aspects of the topic and make a mental map of your speech. Then organise your thoughts sequentially so that your thoughts are interconnected, meaningful, and clear. You might like to take the help of mind maps online or simply organise your thoughts on a piece of paper.
Remember languages are learnt through exposure and practice. All it requires is a little effort on your part and you will be able to do well. The online resources available these days are of immense help. Do practice. It may seem difficult and a bit challenging at first, but you will get the right sounds in just a few days.
All the best for your IELTS Speaking Test!
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