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How to improve your pronunciation for your IELTS – Part 2

Published on January 8, 2018

Welcome to Part 2 on how to improve your pronunciation for your IELTS! In Part One, we talked about three important pronunciation features known as individual sounds, word stress and sentence stress. In this post, we’ll be focusing on two other aspects of English pronunciation: ‘chunking’ and word linking. We’ll also look at different things that you can do to improve in these areas for your test day.

What is ‘chunking’?

Chunking means dividing speech into groups of words when we talk. These groups of words, also known as chunks, are usually separated by pauses. Without chunking, it can be hard for people to follow our message and they may get confused or not understand what we are trying to say.

Let’s look at an example to really see how important chunking is. Below are two answers to the question ‘ In your country, what kind of possessions do you think give status to people?’ Read both answers out loud (note that pauses are marked with a slash [/]) and choose the answer that is easier to understand.

Answer 1 : The first thing that comes to mind is the car and this is because in my country a lot of people like to have luxury cars such as BMW and Audi vehicles to show their status in other words the more expensive the car the higher their place in society

Answer 2 : The first thing that comes to mind is the car / and this is because / in my country / a lot of people / like to have luxury cars / such as BMW and Audi vehicles / to show their status / in other words / the more expensive the car / the higher their place in society

You probably noticed that both answers use exactly the same words. However, Answer 1 is much more difficult to follow because it’s one single stream of speech with no chunks or pauses. On the other hand, the effective use of chunking in Answer 2 makes the speech much clearer for the listener.

Effective chunking can be practiced and improved, so it’s a good idea to spend some study time on this area. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Look for authentic listening sources that have audio scripts (e.g. TED Talks). As you listen to an extract, find and mark the pauses on the audio script. Practice repeating the audio using the chunks and pauses you have marked.
  2. You can also try the exercise in the reverse order: before listening to the extract, predict the location of the pauses and mark them on the audio script. Play the recording and check your predictions.
  3. A great way to check your own chunking is to record yourself speaking and then listen to the recording. You can use an audio script to record your version and then compare it with the original version. The more you do this, the closer the two will sound!
  4. Ask a friend, classmate or co-worker who’s fluent in English to give you feedback on your use of chunking.
  5. Try learning and practising full phrases in English and not just individual words.

A look at word linking

After looking at chunking, you’re now aware that when we speak English in a natural way, we group words into chunks. Inside these chunks, words often connect with each other, creating a smooth flow of speech. This connection is known as word linking.

There are many ways in which words are linked in English:

  • Sounds change
    This is when a sound is influenced by another sound so that it becomes more like its neighbour (e.g. the /n/ in ten pieces becomes an /m/ because of the neighbouring /p/).
  • Sounds disappear
    This is when the sounds /t/ or /d/ are completely left out (e.g. the /d/ sound in hand stand disappears).
  • Sounds join together
    This is when the same consonant sound is found at the end of the first word and the beginning of the second word (e.g. the /g/ sounds in big game are pronounced together as one).
  • Consonant to vowel
    This is when one word ends with a consonant sound and the following word begins with a vowel sound (e.g. the sounds /t/ and /i/ are linked in get in).
  • Vowel to vowel
    This is when the first word ends with a vowel sound and the second word begins with a vowel sound. In some cases, the sounds /w/ or /j/ are added (e.g. the sound /j/ is added when linking the words tidy up).

Improving your word linking skills can help you to become a more fluent English speaker. To achieve this, you can try the following activities:

  1. Once again, find listening sources that have audio scripts. While listening to a short recording, write down the number of words you hear. Look at the audio script and check if you counted the right number of words. Then practice repeating the text using accurate word linking.
  2. Try the activity in the reverse order: mark the word linking on the audio script and then listen to check.
  3. Write down chunks that you think you might use on your IELTS Speaking test (e.g. in my opinion, get along with, first of all, etc.) Mark the word linking and practice saying the chunks so that you sound more natural.

During your IELTS preparation period, instead of setting aside some time exclusively for pronunciation practice, try incorporating it into grammar, vocabulary and skills work on a regular basis. Regular work in this area is essential for developing your pronunciation.

Keep checking our blog for the final part of this three-part series on how to improve your pronunciation for your IELTS!

Part 1 of this series can be found here.