Top Tips for IELTS

Sound scripting – an exercise for better pronunication

This lesson looks at a handy exercise you can do by yourself at home to work on your pronunciation. It is not a “magic bullet”, but it should help you work on some parts of pronunciation people often forget about: pronunciation is not just about sounds, it is about rhythm and stress too.

What you will find is:

  • an explanation of how the exercise works
  • a sample with audio to listen to
  • practice suggestions

Pronunciation and meaning

Pronunciation is a massive part of the spoken language. To explain this, I just have to point out that it accounts for 25% of the score in IELTS speaking. That means it is just as important as both fluency and coherence put together, or, if you like, both grammar and vocabulary combined. If you want to improve your speaking, you should spend time on your pronunciation.

One great activity for this is sound scripting. It should help you understand and  improve:

  • the words you choose to stress in a sentence
  • the rhythm of your speech – how and when you pause and “chunk”

Most of all though it shows you how pronunciation in English closely relates to meaning – a very, very important concept.

How it works

The idea is quite simple. You take a piece of text and you alter it so that it looks just the way it sounds by using CAPITAL letters, bold letters, the s  p  a  c  e bar and

enter. Then when you read the passage, you know exactly how it should sound.

Concept one – stress for key words – the words that tell  you what the sentence is about

The idea is that in any sentence or group of words there will be at least one word that we stress more than the others. Normally, these words are nouns or verbs but there are no real rules here. Take my first sentence:

Pronunciation is a massive part of the spoken language

I could say:

Pronunciation is a massive part of the spoken language -(neutral)

or I could say

Pronunciation ismassive part of the spoken language – (an unusual stress, perhaps contradicting something someone else has said)

The key is that there isn’t a right or wrong answer here – it really just depends on what you mean.

Concept two – what do you feel most strongly about?

The next idea is that there is normally just one word in a group of words that we feel most strongly about and this one gets extra stress – we show this by putting it into CAPITALS

PRONUNCIATION is a massive part of the spoken language(it’s pronunciation I’m talking about here)

Pronunciation is a MASSIVE part of the spoken language (it really isn’t small – it’s huge)

Pronunciation is a massive part of the SPOKEN language (we’re talking speaking, not writing)

Pronunciation IS a massive part of the spoken language (I’m stressing an unusual word to show disagreeing with what someone else has just said)

Again, I want to emphasise that this isn’t a right/wrong type of exercise, it depends on what you feel.

Tip: you probably don’t want to use  CAPITALS too much -if you emphasise everything, nothing is emphasised. Once per sentence is plenty.

Concept three – the pause and the chunk

The next idea is that when we speak – even when we are being fluent – we pause. We do this to help out listeners understand what we are saying – pauses give them time to understand the main points, Typically, we pause when we have said something particularly important, or of we are about to say something important. A language chunk may be a new phrase for you, but the idea should be familiar. Certain words belong together so we say them together.

In the exercise what we do is hit the “enter” key whenever we think we might pause. a little clue is that we almost always pause at punctuation – that is what it is – a written pause.

Pronunciation is a MASSIVE part of the spoken language.

To explain this,

I just have to point out

that it accounts for TWENTY FIVE % of the score in IELTS speaking.

Practice tip: try reading the same passage in different ways. Sometimes putting more pauses/spaces in and sometimes fewer. There is no right and wrong way here. If you want more fluency, pause less. If you want more emphasis, pause more.

Concept 4 – the pace of speech

The next idea is that good speakers do not speak everything at the same speed -or pace – that sounds boring. Pace is also part of the rhythm of speech and pronunciation. Sometimes there are words that we choose to say more slowly – very often the words we give special importance too. Here we use the space bar to show this:

that it accounts for T  W  E  N T  Y  F  I  V  E % of the score in IELTS speaking.

See a possible final version

Pronunciation is MASSIVE part of the spoken language.

To explain this,

I just have to point out

that it accounts for T  W  E  N  T  Y  F  I  V  E % of the score in IELTS speaking.

That means it is JUST as important

as both fluency

and coherence

put together,

or

if you like,

both grammar and vocabulary combined.

Is that right?

For my money,

yes.

When we speak,

it’s not JUST the words we use

that show our meaning,

it’s HOW we say them.

And my best advice is,

if you want to improve your speaking,

you should spend time on your pronunciation.

Now listen to someone else speak

Part of the purpose this lesson is to show you that there is not one right way to do this exercise. How you pronounce something – the words you stress and where you choose to pause  – depends on your meaning. So I asked a colleague to record this passage for me. Justin speaks the passage in his way – stressing different words and pausing in different places. Have a listen and try and see which words he chooses to stress that I don’t:

Practice suggestions – and a difficulty

  • First a difficulty – there is a difference between spoken language and written language, so you want to practise this on texts that are spoken, not written. You could try some of my sample speaking answers, or better yet write your own.
  • Find a spoken text – play with it. Mark it up with the sound scripting ideas above. I suggest you first of all concentrate on the pauses and stresses.
  • Record yourself speaking it. Audacity is a completely free program that is excellent for this and I shall be posting more on ways to use it in the next few weeks.
  • A second suggestion is to go to English Central – a site I have recommended before. There the speech recognition software will test the way you stress and pause just as this exercise does. sadly now you have to pay for it but it’s one paid for site I do recommend.

A credit

I have used this exercise for a number of years in class and have adapted it slightly over time. I first came across it in Presenting in English by Mark Powell – a book I thoroughly recommend.

 

   

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5 Responses to Sound scripting – an exercise for better pronunication

  1. Ms.jinesh July 18, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    I never experience such a supportive program. a bunch of thanks. Now I really trust on your program only for my IELTS exam.

  2. oldooz July 19, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    thank you very much for your helpful exam hints

  3. Helen ESL October 20, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    Thanks for the Audacity tip. I always recommend that my students record themselves speaking and it is always helpful to learn new programs that do this!

  4. Anonymous October 25, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    An area which it is very hard for people to grasp. Thank you for this invaluable piece of work which I know my students will find helpful.

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