Speaking clearly on test day

Is it sheep or ship? Fan or van? Dessert or desert? Sixty or sixteen? Pronunciation can be difficult! Many agree that this is one of the most challenging skills to learn in English. Word stress, sentence stress, short vowels, long vowels – the list goes on and on. Learning accurate and clear English pronunciation requires years to master. And, of course, to improve your IELTS score, you need to demonstrate clear and accurate speaking. As can be seen in the Speaking public band descriptors, 25% of your Speaking test score is based on pronunciation. Considering this, how can effective test preparation include pronunciation? As an IELTS expert, I’ll tell you about five things you can do!

Just speak!

Is your IELTS preparation time spent in a quiet library with only your laptop, grammar books and some newspapers? I’m not saying this is a bad thing, however, if you aim to improve your pronunciation, you need to speak a lot. Try studying grammar by talking about grammar. Try catching the news by discussing it in English. Try chatting with someone on the bus. Get the idea? The more English you speak, the more you’ll improve your pronunciation.

Identify sounds your language doesn’t have

Many students don’t know this one. Basically, not every language has every sound. Here are a few examples. In Japan the ‘l’ sound and the ‘r’ sound are the same. This means that many Japanese have trouble saying ‘lice’ and ‘rice’ clearly. Another example is the Arabic language. They have trouble differentiating between the ‘b’ sound and the ‘p’ sound. That said, many first language Arabic speakers can’t clearly say ‘pat’ and ‘bat’ differently. So, do you know the typical issues with your first language? Do some research, and you might just find the root of your pronunciation problems.

Karaoke for homework?

In China, they call it KTV. In Japan, it’s Karoke. Wherever you are, watching music videos while singing along is a fun activity. Most people who sing Karaoke do so in their first language. However, it is also a fantastic way to study English. So why not combine the two – sing Karaoke and practice English at the same time! Not only is this fun, but singing is an excellent way to improve your English pronunciation. The muscles you use to sing are the muscles you use to speak. Singing also helps you add ‘life’ and ‘spirit’ to your speaking. Did I mention that this will also help you improve your grammar, vocabulary, and listening skills? This is a total win!

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Have you ever gone to a gym for a workout? If you have, you will know that the athletes do the same exercises again and again. This makes their muscles more coordinated and improves their strength. The same thing can be said of practicing English. The more you speak, the stronger and more coordinated your voice will be. You may think this is repetitive and boring, but adding some repetition drills to your study plan can really help you improve your pronunciation. I suggest finding a pronunciation book that has an audio CD or MP3 that you can listen along with. I also suggest finding a room where you can speak loudly. Then, you can repeat, repeat, repeat as loud as you want. You can call it your “Pronunciation Workout”.

Learn the physiology of spoken English

Visualization is a very popular way to learn things these days. Some of the world’s top university students and the world’s best Olympic athletes commonly say that it really helps them succeed. What is visualization? Visualization is using your imagination to see yourself completing an action. For example, before a game, a soccer player will close her eyes and imagine scoring a goal. In her imagination, she sees herself playing well and putting the ball in the net. Then, hopefully, this will become reality and she will do the same thing during the game.

So how does this work for pronunciation? How can you visualize speaking? As I said earlier in this blog, to speak you need to use specific muscles. Every time you make a sound, you are using specific muscular actions.

To apply this to speaking, you will need a diagram, or an animation that shows which particular muscle makes which particular sound. For instance, to make the ‘s’ sound, the muscle diagram will show your tongue behind your upper teeth while air flows out between your teeth.

I suggest doing a web-search for videos and websites using some of these key terms: pronunciation; speech diagram; ESL articulation; English pronunciation muscles, mouth muscles.   

These five pronunciation tips will help you speak more confidently and clearly. Improving your pronunciation will take you one step closer to achieving the IELTS score you want. So, have fun at Karaoke, watch some articulation videos, visualize your English language successes, research the sounds you need to learn, and achieve your best on test day!   

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