Today I’m going to tell you how you can improve your pronunciation for IELTS without the help of a teacher or study partner. By doing these five simple exercises, your pronunciation will get better, and as a result, your IELTS band score will increase.
Why Does Pronunciation Matter?
The IELTS speaking test is marked in four parts, and each of them are worth 25% of your speaking score. You guessed it, pronunciation is one of those four areas. Having poor pronunciation can drag your IELTS score way down, and yet it is one of the most difficult things to improve.
Some people say that it’s impossible to get rid of an accent unless you learn a language in childhood. It’s true that adults who learn a new language often keep a strong foreign accent their whole life, but that’s ok. Having good pronunciation doesn’t mean speaking English with an Oxford or Californian accent.
What your examiner is listening for is clarity in your speech, and that’s what you should aim for. I’ve known many Indians who speak fluent English with a strong Indian accent, but I can easily understand them because they are speaking English clearly.
In short, to get a band 7 or above, your pronunciation should be clear enough that the examiner can understand what you are saying.
So let’s take a look at the five things you can do to improve your pronunciation at home.
1 – Tongue Twisters
A tongue twister is a group of words that is difficult to say. Often their meaning is just nonsense and they are mostly used by children because they sound funny. However, tongue twisters are used by actors, newsreaders, and public speakers because they genuinely do exercise your mouth the way lifting weights can exercise your body.
Start off slowly and build up speed. You don’t need to say them too fast because you aren’t trying to win any competitions. Just focus on getting the sounds right.
Here’s a really popular one you can try:
- She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
If you prefer, you can try using lyrics from your favourite rap song, as these often challenge you in the same way.
2- Use a mirror
You might think that pronunciation is all about sound, but actually your mouth is making different shapes to produce the sound. You can’t normally see your own face, and there’s a tendency for your mouth to get lazy. Watch yourself in a mirror to see if you are really making the right shapes to produce the right sounds.
Here’s a good example: In China, where I live, most English speakers struggle with the “th” sounds, like “these” and “think”. I tell my students to look for their tongue in the mirror. The reason that they mispronounce these words is that their tongue is hiding.
So don’t be shy, stuck out your tongue!
Another one that affects learners from all parts of the world, and especially native speakers of Spanish, is the “i” and “ee” sounds, like in the words “ship” and “sheep”. When you say sheep, your mouth should be much wider than when saying ship. Try it. Grab a mirror and look at yourself when saying these problem sounds.
3 – Listen to yourself
If you feel uncomfortable looking at yourself in a mirror when speaking English, then maybe you should try listening to yourself! This is another essential way to catch those tricky little mistakes. When we are talking, it’s easy to overlook little mistakes. Even native speakers do it. But when we listen to a recording of ourselves, all those little errors become much more obvious.
So grab your phone and hit record. You can make a video or just record audio. It doesn’t matter. Then listen carefully to what you say. Be objective and critical of yourself. When you find yourself saying a word incorrectly, say it again and see if you get it right.
And don’t delete those videos. One day you’ll want to look back and see how much you’ve improved.
4 – Listen and Repeat
Every IELTS student knows it is important to listen to English every day. That means news reports, podcasts, TV shows, movies, TED talks, and even songs.
But what you should also be doing is repeating what you hear. Copy the native speaker’s pronunciation. That means you should try to get the consonant and vowel sounds the same, as well as intonation. This is really important. A lot of English learners think of the words in their head the same as they appear on paper. However, there is music to the language.
Try pausing your favourite TV show and copying ten seconds of dialogue. There’s so much more to language than just the words. How we say something is also really important. Does the sentence rise or fall in intonation? Are any particular words stressed? What about two words coming together as those though they were one word? All of this is important to understanding what someone says, and your examiner will be listening to hear how you manage.
For bonus points, look at body language and eye contact. Language is conveyed though non-verbal means, too.
5 – Spontaneous English
This might sound weird, but trust me, it helps. When you are at home, don’t just study English, but actually speak in English. Even if there is no one there, speak out loud. Yes, you can practice a prepared passage, but try challenging yourself to speak spontaneously. When you walk into the kitchen, can you name everything you see? Could you introduce it to a visitor from Mars?
It sounds silly but the ability to speak fluently in a clear and precise fashion comes from practice. If you don’t have a teacher or language partner around to challenge you and give you feedback, you need to get creative. So take a walk around the house and say what you see. Talk about each little thing you encounter. You’ll be surprised how it helps not only your pronunciation, but also your vocabulary. If you can’t think of the word for something, make a note and look it up later.
There are many ways you can go about improving your speaking, but the most important thing to remember is that you have to practice. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Even when you’re at home alone, you can still do some valuable speaking exercises to improve your pronunciation.
Here’s a video I made on this subject: