Why is pronunciation so important in IELTS?

Pronunciation is one of the most important features if you want to successfully qualify in the IELTS exams. As a prospective candidate who wants to study or work abroad, you have to achieve your target band score in all the four modules of the test- namely Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. Pronunciation is specifically important for the Speaking band, and in fact your pronunciation represents 25% of your potential Speaking score, along with three other skills which are assessed: Fluency and coherence, Lexical resource and Grammatical range and accuracy. The scores for the Listening band also depend a lot on correct and perfect pronunciation.

How is pronunciation in the IELTS Speaking test marked?

Your speaking score will be the average of four scores, each consisting of a number between 0-9. These represent a “band” that describes your skill level. You would earn a zero if you didn’t speak and 9 if your pronunciation is excellent. As a candidate, the primary thing to keep in mind is how clear and legible your pronunciation is. If your pronunciation interferes with the examiner’s ability to understand you, then you will receive a less-than-perfect score. Let us try to explain this further with the Score Descriptor Chart given below.

score descriptor chart

How to improve your pronunciation to maximise the score

Pronunciation is often the area that causes the most problems, and many candidates think that it is ‘difficult’ to learn. The problem in pronunciation inevitably matters your fluency, and it often causes a lot of trouble and difficulty with non-native, English speaking candidates. However, like any problem, this can be tackled too. Like any skill it takes a lot of practice, but you also need to know how to practice smartly and effectively. For this, you need to know the ‘Pronunciation Features’ and use a wide variety of them in the  IELTS Speaking test.

What are ‘Pronunciation features’ and how they can be improved?

To get a high score in the IELTS Speaking test you should be able to use the following features:

Individual Sounds: When you speak in English, each sound coming out of the mouth of the speaker follows a ‘Phonemic Chart’. The phonemic chart consists of a set of symbols that represent each and every sound in Spoken English. With the help of this chart you can identify difficult sounds or words which you find tough to pronounce, and fixing them with this chart can make your pronunciation better in a remarkable manner.

Word Stress: Each word has a number of syllables and some of these are stressed upon more than the others. This gives each word its unique stress pattern, and if you cannot do this correctly, it is often difficult for a native English speaker to understand what is being said. Let us try to explain this with an example: Thunderbolt> thun- dur-bowlt.  The stress is on the underlined word. It has to be put correctly else the word won’t be clear to the examiner who is a native English speaker, and your pronunciation will be treated as incorrect. Eventually, you will end up losing marks for this. So, this should also be rigorously worked upon to improve your pronunciation.

Sentence Stress : Within each sentence, there are certain words or syllables which are emphasised more than the others. If you change these words or place them differently, the entire meaning of the sentence changes. For eg: Meet me at 1 pm on the corner of Commercial Street on Saturday. The words which should be correctly emphasised in this sentence are the underlined ones. Meet me at 1pm on the corner of Commercial Street on Saturday.

There are two different kinds of words in a sentence: 1. Content word 2. Function word. Content words are the words that carry meaning. They are often (but not always) Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives or Adverbs. Function words carry no meaning and instead are mostly grammar rules. They are not as important as content words and we don’t stress them. They are words like Pronouns, Articles and Prepositions. There is also something called Shifting Stress, where changing the position of the emphasised word can change the meaning of the whole sentence.

Weak Sounds: Some words change position in a sentence and they might sound weaker than usual. This is also to be noted and worked upon to improve your pronunciation and fluency to score high in the test. Most often, these are function words which are not important as they do not carry any meaning for the sentence. You can achieve this mostly by changing the vowel sounds. It not only makes you sound more like a native speaker, but also make you speak more fluently, thereby making you more comprehensible to the examiner.

Intonation: Intonation is the natural rising and falling in tone when a native English speaker speaks. The change in intonation can affect and even alter the meaning of a word, so this also influences the pronunciation hugely. The best way by which a candidate can improve his/her pronunciation is to listen to native speakers and copy their intonations. You can do this by watching English-speaking movies or TV, podcasts or lectures online. Thus, it is evident that pronunciation is of primary importance to IELTS, and other than the points mentioned above, you should also constantly work on Linking Sounds like Consonant to Vowel Linking, Vowel to Vowel Linking, Sounds Doubling up and Micro Listening; where you listen to the same sentence spoken by the native speaker repeatedly and work upon your pronunciation mistakes.

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