I talked about IELTS Pronunciation tips for the Speaking test in this blog:
In today’s blog, you’ll learn pronunciation tips to help you understand fast speech and accents in the IELTS Listening Test.
In the Members Academy, there are 2 courses that help you improve your Pronunciation for the Speaking Test.
But this guide is different – it will raise your awareness of what happens to the sounds that you are familiar with when you hear them in fast, connected speech and different accents.
There are 7 key features that you need to develop a better understanding of in order to increase your Listening Score:
- Features of connected speech (dropping sounds, adding sounds, changing sounds, weak sounds and twin sounds).
- Word boundaries
- Sounds that are different or don’t exist in your language
- Accents and rhoticity (‘r’)
- Minimal pairs
- Consonant Clusters
1. Features of connected speech
The IELTS Listening test is not the same as ‘real-life’ English. It is carefully scripted and pre-recorded – it is not the same as spontaneous speech that you hear on the streets or on TV/in movies.
But there are still important differences between what you learn from a coursebook, and how fast speech actually sounds.
Here are some changes the take place.
- Dropped sounds: for example ‘d’ and ‘t’ at the end of words – you might hear “Why wine” instead of “Whi(te) wine”.
- Extra sounds: fluent speakers add an extra ‘r’ ‘w’ or ‘/j/’ sound to make it easier to move between two vowel sounds e.g. “You’re an 8” can sound like “urinate”.
- Moving sounds: it’s hard to hear the difference between ‘an ice cream’ and ‘a nice cream’ because the ‘n’ moves to the ‘ice’.
- Changing sounds: when ‘n’ comes before ‘d’ it changes to ‘m’, so ‘handbag’ sounds like ‘hambag’
- Weak sounds (see below)
2. Weak sounds (the schwa /ə/)
The schwa is THE MOST IMPORTANT SOUND in the English language, so you HAVE to master it (for your Speaking as well as your Listening).
Words and phrases sound completely different from what you’re expecting and how they’re written mostly because of the weak sounds that often disappear.
Some examples that you probably recognise are:
- A cup of tea = a cuppa tea (ə ˈkʌpə tiː)
- I want to = I wanna (ˈaɪ ˈwɒnə)
- Fish and chips = Fish ‘n’ chips (fɪʃ ən tʃɪps)
Many final syllables in words like comfortable (ˈkʌmftəbl̩) and chocolate (ˈtʃɒklət) contain this weak sound, so they sound different to how they are written and to other similar-looking words like ‘able’ and ‘ate’.
Certain ‘function’ words are hard to hear because they’re not as important as the content words e.g. “Shall we go?” sounds like “Shwigo?” (‘ʃə wɪ ˈɡəʊ’)
3. Spelling-sound confusion
It’s well-known that the spelling rules of English make us expect words to sound exactly like they are written!
I’ve covered the main problem areas in my 101 Most Mispronounced Words course, and here are some of the key issues.
- Silent letters e.g. knowledge, building, half, bought, answer
- Homophones e.g. aloud/allowed, guessed/guest, source/sauce
- Contractions e.g. he’ll/heel, who’s/whose
- Third person and plural ‘s’ e.g. knows/nose
- Past tenses e.g. fined/find, seen/sceen
4. Short and long vowels
Many languages simply don’t have the short /ɪ/ vowel (‘bit’) or short /æ/ vowel (‘bat’), so speakers of these languages may confuse words like
You’ll hear a range of accents in the IELTS test so try to familiarise yourself with specific sounds that are pronounced differently.
- Australians and New Zealanders pronounce “bed” like “bid” (listen to Jacinda Ardern below).
- The American accent doesn’t use the short ‘o’ /ɒ/ sound in ‘lot’ and they use the rhotic ‘r’ so the US “They’re awesome” sounds like “There are some” to UK speakers.
- People in the north of the UK pronounce “luck” like “look”, and there are many examples of this /ʊ/ pronunciation in IELTS Listening texts.
6. Voiced and unvoiced minimal pairs
Minimal pairs are sets of words that sound very similar apart from one sound.
If one of the sounds is different or missing in your language, you may not hear the difference for example between:
7. Consonant clusters
A consonant cluster is when 2, 3 or 4 consonant sounds appear together in a row.
If you struggle with consonant clusters, you may also find words like this difficult to hear:
In fact, the reason that I wrote this blog was because I got this question from a website visitor.
I have difficulty with hearing the ascent*. I am getting it when the audio is slow, but get lost when it becomes fast.”
It’s interesting that the student wrote ‘*ascent’ instead of ‘accent’. This could be one of the issues – the way you pronounce words affects how you hear them, and ‘accent’ contains a /ks/ consonant cluster, which always causes problems.
What to do next
Don’t use Practice Listening Tests just as tests – use them as learning opportunities. ALWAYS listen again with the audioscript. Identify sounds that you missed. Research them. If they’re words that you pronounce differently, check the correct pronunciation and make a note of common sounds that you miss.
I’ve put together a more detailed guide to all of these points, with examples and extra practice opportunities. It’s currently on Early Bird offer while I create the full course in the Members Academy.
If you’re interested in doing more Proununciation for IELTS Speaking (25% of the Speaking score) I already have 2 courses to help you in the Members Academy.
Do you need motivation, high-quality materials, a roadmap, feedback, guidance and an IELTS specialist teacher?
Join the Members Academy today.
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