ielts speaking

Improving Intonation (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of why it’s useful to better your ability to use various intonation patterns while speaking. We also looked at two common types of intonation, falling and rising.

In this post, we’ll first consider some more intonation types and then give you tips on how to improve your intonation.

Types of intonation

3. Rise-fall intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice and then drop it. This pattern is often found in:

  • alternative questions
    E.g. Would you like tea or coffee?
  • lists (pattern in the example – rise, rise, rise, fall)
    E.g. We’d need milk, sugar, flour, and eggs.
  • conditional sentences
    E.g. If you seeDanny, please ask him to call ➘ Rebecca.

4. Fall-rise intonation
In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice and then raise it. This pattern is commonly used to suggest that something is uncertain or incomplete. Have a look at these examples:

I don’t like drinking tea in the morning.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker enjoys drinking tea at other times of the day)

The first half was exciting.

(perhaps hinting that the second half was boring)

Do you think this is allowed here?

(perhaps hinting that the speaker is not sure if something is permissible)

I can’t afford a car at the moment.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker may be able to buy one in the future)

Ways to improve intonation

Here are some tips to help improve your ability to use various intonation patterns.

  • Listen carefully to short recordings of native speakers of English, paying particular attention to the way their voices rise and fall. Then, imitate their intonation by just humming along, without saying the actual words. Remember to focus on the melody, not the words.
  • Record yourself saying a sentence with absolutely no intonation, just like how a robot would do. Later, repeat the same sentence by using stress and intonation. Listen to both versions to know the difference that intonation can make.
  • Record yourself saying any common word over and over again, changing your attitude each time. For example, repeat the word ‘coffee’, giving it different meaning each time to indicate different emotions, such as enthusiasm, displeasure, surprise, and relief.

Remember, it’s difficult to listen to our own pitch, so working with audio materials is the way forward for improving your intonation.

Improving Intonation (Part 1)

A key pronunciation feature that helps you convey your thoughts and feelings with precision is intonation. In its simplest sense, intonation can be described as the melody of spoken language, i.e. the rise and fall in your voice when you speak. The focus here is on how we say things, not what we say.

It goes without saying that the concept of intonation is common to all languages; yet not many pay attention to this area while they speak, as they are so caught up in choosing the right words to express what they want to say. What they don’t realise is that intonation can be as important as word choice if not more.   

Why improve intonation

Here are a few good reasons why it is worthwhile to work on your intonation:

  • Bettering your understanding of intonation helps you become a skilled communicator.
  • Failing to use intonation could mean that listeners may soon lose interest in what you’re saying and switch off.
  • Getting your intonation patterns wrong might give rise to misunderstandings, with listeners even taking offence.
  • Not having enough awareness of intonation can impair your listening comprehension too, as you’re likely to misinterpret what others say.

Types of intonation

Here are some common intonation patterns found in English speech.  

  1. Falling intonation
    In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is usually found in:
  • statements
    E.g. I’m going for a stroll on the beach.
  • commands
    E.g. Get your hands off my coat!
  • wh-questions that seek information
    E.g. What’s your name?
  • question tags that invite agreement
    E.g. It was such a lousy film, wasn’t it?

2. Rising intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is generally found in:

  • yes/no questions
    E.g. Do you like my newdress?
  • question tags that seek an answer
    E.g. You haven’t had a fight with Tom,have you?

We’ll be back with more in the next part. Meanwhile, think about whether your pitch goes up and down when you speak in English.

Understanding the IELTS Speaking Section

Being able to speak with confidence and clarity is a reliable indicator of an individual’s language proficiency. Naturally, all language tests have a component that assesses the test taker’s oral skills.  

Here’s an overview of the IELTS Speaking test.

Parts

Part 1: Introduction and interview (four to five minutes)

This part aims to put test takers at ease by getting them to talk on familiar topics, such as home, work, studies, family, and interests. Being the easiest part of the test, it’s a great chance to overcome nerves.

Part 2: Individual long turn (three to four minutes)

The test taker receives a task card with a particular topic. They get one minute to prepare, after which they have to speak for up to two minutes on the topic. They may need to draw on their personal experiences and feelings to do well.

Part 3: Two-way discussion (four to five minutes)

Thematically linked to the previous part, here the examiner asks the test taker questions about more abstract issues and ideas. Since questions tend to be of a complex nature, it gives test takers the perfect opportunity to show off their language skills. 

Skills tested

Over three parts, IELTS Speaking assesses a wide range of skills. Initially, test takers get to communicate opinions and information on everyday topics. Later on, they need to exhibit an ability to speak at length on a given topic without much effort, organising ideas coherently as they go along. Towards the end, they also have to express and justify opinions, analyse situations, and speculate about issues.

Marking

Speaking interviews are conducted and assessed by certificated IELTS examiners, who hold relevant teaching qualifications and have sufficient teaching experience. Tests are marked according to the IELTS Speaking test assessment criteria (Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, Pronunciation). To do well, test takers have to produce a wide range of language throughout with accuracy. The wider the range you display, the higher the accuracy, the better the outcome.  

Unlike other tests, the Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interview that is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get, so prepare well to make the most of it.

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 2)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it’s important to sensibly utilise the one minute allotted for preparation during the IELTS Speaking section.

 

Read on for more advice on how to do well in the IELTS Speaking section.

2. Generate some main ideas, not many

Test takers commonly but wrongly try to produce as many different ideas related to the topic as possible, which doesn’t always work. After all, thinking up new ideas is a lot harder than extending ideas you already have. What they really should be doing is to come up with a few main ideas and then think of ways to develop them. Wh-words (what, when, which, where, why, and how) come in handy when you wish to elaborate a point. Learn to put them to good use, and you should be able to keep talking until the two-minute time is up.

 

3. Be descriptive

Topics used in the second part of the IELTS Speaking section often encourage test takers to draw on their own experience and feelings. And when doing so, it’s a good idea to vividly describe people and things you include in your talk. If you’ve been asked to talk about your favourite type of food, for example, talk about its appearance, smell, texture, and aroma. That way, you’ll have a lot more to say, meaning that you are less likely to dry up. As well as this, the examiner might also find your response more impressive, as detailed descriptions involve use of precise vocabulary.

 

4. Speak at a steady pace

It’s only human nature to talk faster than usual when we are fairly stressed out, and exam conditions can do just that sort of thing to you. The problem, though, is that the faster you go, the more content you need to produce to last the two-minute duration. Going at breakneck speed can also interfere with your diction, lowering your pronunciation score. It is best to stay calm and speak at a steady pace – not too fast, not too slow.

 

Equip yourself with these sound strategies, and speaking non-stop will be a walk in the park!

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

come in handy
Form : phrase
Meaning : be useful
Example : Some ability to speak European languages will come in handy in this job.

 

draw on (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to make use of skill or experience that you have 
Example : The book draws heavily on the author’s experiences as a tourist in Asia.

 

a walk in the park
Form : phrase
Meaning : something that is easy to do
Example : I’ve been a cop for over two decades, so investigating petty crimes is a walk in the park. 

Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 1)

 

Talking about any topic at length, in itself, is never too easy, so imagine having to do it without any prior preparation.

 

Giving an extempore speech, or an impromptu speech, is something that many people find daunting. For one thing, the speaker needs to be able to think on their feet. With zero preparation done beforehand, they have to make up content as they go along. Another challenge is that the speaker also needs to organise the ideas they generate as they speak. If not, there is every chance of the talk becoming directionless, with ideas popping up randomly.

 

An extempore task brings to the fore a person’s ability to think, organise, and talk all at the same time, when little to no preparation time is available. No mean feat, right? No wonder then that B-schools commonly use such tasks to measure the speaking as well as logical thinking ability of applicants. Several international language tests also have a component that assesses the test taker’s ability to speak at length without preparation.

 

In IELTS, the second part of the speaking section, known as the individual long turn, requires the test taker to speak on a particular topic for up to 2 minutes uninterruptedly. Of course, there is the advantage of having a minute to prepare and make notes, but the task is essentially extempore speaking.

 

Here are some ways to perform well in the extempore part of the IELTS speaking test:

1. Use prep time wisely

Test takers do get time to think about the topic and make notes before they start talking, but one minute is not a lot of time. So, do not write in full sentences. Instead, jot down keywords that can help you talk elaborately on the topic. For instance, if you have been asked to talk about an unforgettable meal you’ve had, add words such as ‘exotic’ and ‘flavoursome’ to the notes you make. Once you begin talking, they’ll serve as a reminder to describe the origin of the food and its distinctive flavours.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Speaking tips in the next part. Stay tuned!

 

 

GLOSSARY

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long period of time
Example : The ministers spoke at length about the need to bring down crime rates.

 

think on your feet
Form : phrase
Meaning : to have the ability to think and react quickly 
Example : Stand-up comedians need to have the ability to think on their feet while doing live shows.

 

no mean feat
Form : phrase
Meaning : not easy to do
Example : He has played in over 300 international matches, and that’s no mean feat.

 

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Ben Grey via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

Top Tips to Improve Your IELTS Speaking Score (Part 2)

In the previous part, we spoke of how it is best to avoid memorised answers in the IELTS Speaking test. Here’s another way to be yourself during the interview.

State YOUR opinion, not the examiner’s

 

Bad example

Examiner: Let’s now talk about the role of advertising. Do you think advertising influences what people buy?
Candidate: Hmm… No, I don’t think so!
Examiner: Well, how do we then explain companies spending billions on advertisements?
Candidate: Oh, OK; I guess advertisements do influence people in some ways. Sorry!

 

The Speaking module has three parts:

  1. Introduction and interview (4 – 5 minutes)
  2. Individual long turn (3 – 4 minutes)
  3. Two-way discussion (4 – 5 minutes)

 

The third part gives candidates an opportunity to state their views on abstract topics and justify them. Sadly, some candidates don’t express how they really feel about a topic; instead they agree with whatever the examiner says the whole time!

 

As a candidate, you are assessed on your language, not your ideas or views. All the examiner wants to know is how wide your range of language is, so focus on exhibiting that. If your opinions are different to those of the examiner, feel free to disagree with him/her. Be confident and speak your mind.

 

Good example

Examiner: Let’s now talk about the role of advertising. Do you think advertising influences what people buy?
Candidate: No, I don’t think so!
Examiner: Well, how do we explain companies spending so much money on advertisements?
Candidate: In a highly competitive market, it becomes necessary for companies to promote their products and services. Advertising helps them reach out to billions of people. How else would people notice a particular product or come to know of its existence? But the question here is whether it influences consumer behaviour. Now, I strongly believe that there isn’t enough evidence to ….

 

Remember, always be frank and express your thoughts; do not change your opinion to mirror that of the examiner – just be yourself!

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

be yourself
Form : phrase
Meaning : behave or act naturally
Example : Why do you put on an accent, Tom? Have the confidence to be yourself!

 

abstract
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something based on general ideas, not anything in particular
Example : They spoke about love in abstract terms – for example, is it valued in today’s world?

 

justify
Form : verb
Meaning : to show that something is right, especially when others think it is wrong
Example : It’s difficult to justify paying huge salaries when the company is making a loss.

 

 

 

 

 

exhibit
Form : verb
Meaning : to show something such as a quality or skill
Example : He exhibited his skills during the football match.

 

speak your mind
Form : phrase
Meaning : to honestly say what you think, usually in a direct way
Example : Clara always speaks her mind, which sometimes gets her into trouble. 

 

frank
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes someone who is honest about their opinions
Example : Dan was completely frank about the problems he was facing in his marriage.

 

mirror
Form : verb
Meaning : to match the feelings of someone
Example : He always makes sure his views on office matters mirror those of his boss.

 

 

Top Tips to Improve Your IELTS Speaking Score (Part 1)

 

 

 

 

 

…don’t sound like a robot!

The IELTS Speaking test is a one-to-one discussion with an examiner, lasting between 11 and 14 minutes. It has three parts, with each testing a different speaking skill. Here is one simple way to improve the score you get:

 

Be natural, DON’T rehearse answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an example of how not to do it:

Examiner: Can you tell me your full name, please?
Candidate: Certainly! My full name is Mariana Georgina Gama. Mariana is my first name, Georgina is my middle name, and Gama is my surname. My friends call me Maria so you may call me Maria too.

 

The IELTS Speaking is testing your ability to use English in real-life and many test takers say the interview is similar to a conversation with a friend. So, you should speak in a natural way. Don’t memorise answers and reproduce them – the examiner can tell and mark you down. You don’t want to sound like a robot!

 

Let’s consider the example given above – the candidate’s rather long answer to a very simple question makes them sound artificial. If you don’t speak like that in everyday conversations, why would you do things differently in a test?

 

Good example

Examiner: Can you tell me your full name, please?
Candidate: Sure! It’s Mariana Georgina Gama.

 

A note of caution: although the format of the speaking interview lets you interact freely with the examiner, avoid using informal language (e.g. wanna; gonna; cheers, mate; etc.) or sounding too causal.

 

So to recap, the best way to improve your IELTS Speaking score is to relax and not to reproduce memorised answers. Just be yourself!

 

GLOSSARY

 

one-to-one
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that involves only two people
Example : I have a one-to-one meeting with my manager every month.

 

note of caution
Form : phrase
Meaning : a piece of advice or warning
Example : The old man sounded a note of caution, warning them not to play near the train tracks.

 

 

interact
Form : verb
Meaning : to communicate or be directly involved with someone/something
Example : Our new CEO is amazing – he finds time to interact with everyone in the office.

 

recap
Form : verb
Meaning : to repeat what has been said in a brief manner
Example : I’m so sorry for being late! Can you please recap on what you’ve discussed so far?

 

 

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