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Everyone speaks English with an accent. For example, if you compare how an Australian, Irish or American person speaks, they all speak English perfectly, but with different accents. IELTS examiners are experienced language teachers and have been certified to assess your spoken English and not your accent. They are always prepared to hear an extensive range of accents when conducting an IELTS Speaking test. 

Your performance in the Speaking test will be assessed on four assessment criteria. One of these criteria is pronunciation. It is worth 25% of your performance, so how clearly you pronounce words is very important. If the examiner has trouble understanding you because you mispronounce words and have unusual stress patterns in your sentences, you will probably get a lower score because it prevents communication and causes misunderstanding.  

 How you deliver your words using stress, intonation and rhythm can all be influenced by your accent. So today we will take a closer look at some tips to help you speak more clearly and ensure that the examiner can understand you.

Use stress

English is a stress-timed language. We use stress when we speak to help communicate and express our opinions. In the Speaking test you are assessed on your ability to communicate in English and a key part of intelligibility in speaking is to use your voice to communicate meaning.  

Stress can be used to emphasise important words or to compare and contrast something you are talking about. For example, ‘I used to love watching TV, but now I hate it. I only use the TV to watch Netflix’.    

Your accent can impact how you deliver individual sounds and words. Individual words need to be stressed correctly so meaning is not confused. If we stress the wrong syllable in a word, it can change the meaning from a verb ‘record’ to a noun ‘record’.  

If the examiner has trouble understanding you because words are mispronounced and have unusual stress patterns, you will probably get a lower score as meaning is unclear.  So, stress is very important.

Use intonation

When we talk about intonation, we mean the rise and fall of your voice when you speak. So, make sure you use your voice to help communicate meaning. 

When we ask a question, we usually have a rising inflection, meaning our voice goes up at the end of sentence. It’s like punctuation in writing. When we finish a statement, our voice falls, which helps with communication because we know a speaker is ending a sentence. If you speak in a monotone, you will sound flat and expressionless, making it hard for examiners to follow what you are trying to say. 

Use rhythm

English is a stress-timed language, using rhythm to communicate at the correct speed. For example, if you sing a song, you use phrasing, rhythm and stress to express yourself. This is the same when speaking English. 

 Make sure you:  

  • Speak clearly and at a natural pace, stressing words that are important or that emphasise or contrast ideas that you are trying to express 

  • Speak in meaningful phrases and don’t produce single word answers.  

  • Don’t speak very slowly as it will be difficult to follow what you are saying 

  • Speak at a normal speed and not too quickly as it will be hard to understand you 

  • Phrase your words into meaningful word groups (e.g. when I was child – I loved playing soccer) 

Be natural

While preparing for the IELTS Speaking test, focus on the features of pronunciation that can lead to a higher score.  Make sure you: 

  • Speak clearly and at a natural pace, stressing words that are important or that emphasise or contrast ideas that you are trying to express  

  • Speak in meaningful phrases and don’t produce single words.   

  • Vary the pitch of your voice and imitate the English intonation patterns you hear every day, on the television, in movies, on the bus.  

  • Speak at a normal speed 

  • Speak so others can understand you.

Don’t stress too much over your accent. If you clearly communicate your ideas with the examiner and put the tips above into action, you’ll be on your way to getting the Speaking score you need.  

Remember, that we all, including examiners speak with a variety of accents. Try and expose yourself to a range of accents by watching English news programmes, movies, TV shows and listening to podcasts or English radio. And if you still feel nervous on test day, imagine yourself sitting and speaking with a friend in a coffee shop.