Improving your Pronunciation for the IELTS Speaking Test – Part 2
Welcome back! In this three-part series, we’re looking at ways to improve your pronunciation for the IELTS Speaking test. In Part One, we talked about three important aspects of English pronunciation: individual sounds, word stress and sentence stress. In Part Two, we’ll be focusing on two other pronunciation features known as ‘chunking’ and word linking. Just as with Part One, we’ll also explore some ways to improve your pronunciation in these areas while preparing for your IELTS.
Chunks are groups of words that go together in English and are generally separated by pauses. When you use chunking effectively, it’s easier for your listeners to follow your message without getting overwhelmed with too much information.
Let’s take a look at two answers to the question ‘To what extent do you think the climate of a country affects the kind of houses that are built?’ Try reading both examples out loud (note that pauses are marked with a slash [/]) and decide which one is easier to understand and why:
In my opinion, climate has a lot to do with the way we build and design our homes for example in tropical countries the houses are usually built to keep the sun out while in places where it snows a lot you find houses with steep roofs so that the snow can’t settle there and damage the roof
In my opinion / climate has a lot do with the way we build and design our homes / for example / in tropical countries / the houses are usually built to keep the sun out / while in places where it snows a lot / you find houses with steep roofs / so that the snow can’t settle there and damage the roof
As you probably noticed, even though both responses are the same in terms of content, Example 2 is much easier to follow simply because the information is divided into chunks, which makes the speech more manageable for the listener.
Improving your chunking
The ability to use chunking appropriately when speaking can be practiced by using authentic listenings (e.g. TED Talks) as models. Some of the activities that you can do to improve in this area include the following:
- Look for listening texts that include an audio script and as you listen, locate and mark the pauses on the audio script. Then practice repeating the listening using the chunking you have marked.
- Another possibility is to try the same activity in the reverse order: predict the location of the pauses and mark them on the audio script. Then, listen to the extract and check your predictions.
- One of the most powerful ways to become more aware of your own use of chunking is to listen to a recording of your voice. You can use an audio script and compare yourself with the original speaker. You can also record yourself while attempting to answer a sample IELTS question and reflect on your use of chunking.
- Find someone to give you feedback. This person can be a friend, classmate or co-worker that speaks English fluently.
- When learning new vocabulary, try learning and practicing full phrases instead of just individual words.
As you already know by now from looking at chunking, when we speak English naturally we don’t say a word, pause, then say the next word in a sentence. Fluent speech flows smoothly and words connect with each other so that they are easy to say. In some cases, the way we pronounce words changes, depending on the sounds at the beginning and end of those words. This is known as word linking.
There are different ways of linking two words in English:
- Consonant to vowel linking: this happens when the first word ends with a consonant sound and the second word begins with a vowel sound (e.g. fried egg = fried_egg).
- Vowel to vowel linking: this happens when one word ends with a vowel sound and the next word begins with a vowel sound. In certain cases, another sound, a /w/ or /j/, is added, depending on the specific sounds (e.g. two arms = two_w_arms).
- Sounds change: this sometimes happens when a word ends with a consonant sound and the next word begins with a consonant sound, depending on the particular sounds (e.g. hand bag = ham-bag).
- Sounds disappear: this happens when the sounds /t/ or /d/ appear between two consonant sounds. Often, these sounds disappear completely (e.g. worst job = wors_job).
- Sounds join together: this happens when a word ends with a consonant sound and the following word begins with the same consonant sound. In these cases, both sounds are pronounced together as one (e.g. a bit tired = a bi_tired).
Improving your word linking
Being more aware of word linking can help you to improve your word linking skills and help you to become a more fluent speaker. Here are some ways in which you can accomplish this:
- Once again, look for listening texts that include an audio script. Play a short extract and as you listen write down the number of words you hear. Next, go over the text of the audio script to check whether you could identify all the words. Then try to accurately produce what you’ve heard.
- You can also try a variation of the previous exercise where you mark the word linking and then listen to check. This can then be followed by practicing saying the text.
- Focus on using word linking in chunks that you’re likely to use on your IELTS Speaking test. These chunks might include the following:
- phrasal verbs (e.g. come across, lie in, let down)
- collocations (e.g. hard day, arrange an appointment, out of interest)
- discourse markers (e.g. on the one hand, I must say, last of all)
When preparing for the IELTS, try integrating pronunciation practice into vocabulary, grammar and skills work. Remember that all aspects of the English language are connected, and you will benefit from practicing all the different features of pronunciation as you go along.