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Sitting for the IELTS Listening test isn’t easy, especially if English is not your mother tongue and you are expected to listen to various recordings from native English speakers. 

With 4 recordings worth of audio accompanied by 40 questions spread across 6 different types of tasks, it is important to get familiar with how native English speakers talk and understand what they are saying. 

After all, the Listening test will entail listening to recordings played across a range of accents that include British, Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian accents. Each accent has different variations in speech, tonal inflections and cadence. 

This can be somewhat confusing and pose a big challenge, especially when you can only listen to the recording once and there is a strict time limit to the entire test! 

Thankfully, you can help train yourself to listen better. In this article, we will take you through steps and measures to take to better understand native English speakers.

How to better understand native English speakers

1. Watch and listen to various international news programs

Because we already know the types of accents being played, a good first step is to consistently expose yourself to the range of accents in a formal setting. 

By listening to various news programs including CNN and the BBC, you can immerse yourself into an environment of varied native English speakers’ accents. 

Plus, you’ll also stay up to date with the latest news and trending topics that will serve you well in understanding the context of many topics throughout the entire IELTS examination! 

One of the biggest challenges of understanding native speakers is phonetic links. That means each word isn't pronounced separately and when they are linked together, can sound like a single word. 

There is rarely a pause and the words are pronounced as one continuous sentence. Linking happens when two consonants can be linked together such as ‘cheap places’ or the omission of sounds that end with ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘h’. 

For example, the sentence ‘he just kept going’, might be pronounced as ‘he just kep going’, with the ‘t’ being dropped during the speech. It is necessary for you to be aware of such links in order to better understand what is being said by a native speaker. 

3. Pay extra attention to speech patterns

Everyone has a distinct way of speaking, whether it is being informal, formal or speaking quickly. This can be especially jarring to non-native English speakers who might be more comfortable talking at a measured and consistent pace. 

Here are 3 things to pay extra attention to and to get more comfortable with when listening to native speakers. 

Inflection

This is the stress and tone being placed to stress certain words when speaking. 

Speech rate 

This is the accelerating or slowing down of speech. 

Brevity 

Sometimes, a speaker might talk in quick short sentences, using fewer syllables and using simple sentences without much complexity. 

Native speakers could vary all three of these speech patterns during the audio recordings, so it is important to really get familiar with them.

A group of IELTS test takers sitting together at a table.

4. Hook on to stressed sounds

A great way to better understand native speakers is to pay extra attention to stressed sounds. These are words or parts of words that have extra emphasis or ‘stress’ to them when being spoken. 

For example, the sentence ‘What time are we going home today?” 

The words ‘What time’, ‘Home’ and ‘today’ are the stressed sounds and are usually spoken in full. They aren’t being shortened or skipped over. 

By focusing on stressed sounds, it will be easier for you to understand the general meaning of the sentence.

5. Be an active listener wherever you go

One of the best ways to improve your listening skills is to be intentional with your listening. 

Whether you are spending time with native speaking friends, listening to a podcast or watching a news segment on TV, you should have a goal in hand. 

This could be as simple as recognising 10 new words or highlighting sentences or phrases that sound odd and then going through them. 

If you have a native English speaking friend, you can have a conversation with them and quiz them on places where you can’t understand their speech. 

If you are in an environment of native English speakers, you can eavesdrop on conversations and try to make out what they are talking about as well! 

6. Practice the sample Listening tests extensively

Perhaps the best way to understand native English speakers, especially for the IELTS test, is to take sample tests and practice! 

This will help you use the skills and tips earlier in a real-world context where you not only have to listen to audio recordings but also process the information to answer questions at the same time! 

Additionally, the sample test will resemble the kind of accents you can expect to hear on test day itself. So do take some time and take a series of sample Listening tests to accurately gauge how well you understand native English speakers. 

Two female IELTS test takers sitting in front of a laptop and having a discussion.

Prepare for the IELTS Listening test with IDP today

Preparing early for your Listening test is essential. It allows you to get familiar with the format, which is essential to prevent making the mistakes discussed. 

Take the time to go through our resources and prepare yourself better with our wide range of sample tests at your disposal! 

At IDP, we have a world of resources and IELTS supportexternal icon that you can rely on to help you score better! 

Be sure to check out our IELTS preparation materials here as well as read hand-picked tips on how to prepare and ace the testexternal icon

And once you are ready, you can book your IELTS test hereexternal icon!