Saturday, May 17, 2014

pronunciation: "you say toMAYto, I say toMAHto???"

There are so many things to think about when you speak for IELTS, aren't there?  Does my speech have a good flow or do I hesitate?  Do I make sense when I speak? Is my grammar accurate?  Am I using a variety of simple and complex structures?  Am I using advanced, less common vocabulary and collocations? 

One of the things candidates frequently overlook is pronunciation.  Do they assume that pronunciation is something that can't be fixed?  That they will never sound British/ American/ Australian so they don't even work on it?  Or does pronunciation just seem like a detail?

Well, it is certainly NOT a detail.  Pronunciation accounts for 25% of your overall speaking score.  And no, you are not expected to sound British/ American/ Australian in order to get a good band score for pronunciation.  

There are certain elements that make up "good" pronunciation.   First, and this is where many IELTS candidates stop, is in the correct pronunciation of words.  You should of course know how the words you use are pronounced, but that is not enough. 

Too often, intonation is overlooked.  Intonation is the "music" of speech.  Every language has its own music, that is, when our voice goes up and down in a sentence.  For example, our voice goes down at the end of most sentences but goes up at the end of questions.  Also, when we are giving a list, our voice rises for each item in the list, except for the last one, when our voice drops.  Try saying this, "My favorite hobbies are reading, running, cycling and shopping."  Did your voice go up for the first three & down for the last one?  What you don't want is to have speech that is completely flat & monotonous. 

Also, sentence stress is important.  Users of English need to know which words to emphasize when they speak in order to add extra meaning. 

Lastly, remember that how and where you pause in your speech is also a part of pronunciation.  This is often called chunking - pausing appropriately between phrases or strings of words.   American news presenters are great at this.  They definitely make their speech much more dramatic this way.  Take a look at newscasts from any of the big US networks and listen to how and when they pause.  Your goal is to pause at the correct breaks so tune your ear to how English speakers pause in their sentences.  For example: "Despite the wide variety of hobbies I have -  I'd have to say that- for me- the most enjoyable activity is - studying English."  I put dashes where I paused.  And, to make this more fun, I will put in bold all the words I stressed as well, just to give an example of sentence stress.  Here it is again: "Despite the wide variety of hobbies I have -  I'd have to say that- for me- the most enjoyable activity is - studying English."

So play around with it a little.   Record yourself.  Record yourself focusing on each of these features of pronunciation. Watch a little CNN/ NBC/ CBS/ ABC news in your free time.  Here is a link from the British Council you might find helpful: 


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