What is ‘accent’ and does it affect my IELTS test score?
Your accent refers to the way you pronounce the words of a language. Whether you are a native speaker of English or not, you probably speak English with an accent that is unique to you and the people from your country. Since IELTS is an international test, your accent does not affect your IELTS score at all. That is, your examiner will not judge you by your accent on the day of your IELTS speaking test. Instead, they will be listening to you very carefully to find out if you can pronounce the words you use in your answers correctly and clearly. So, it does not make a difference if you speak with a British, American, or Australian accent.
What’s the difference between pronunciation and accent anyway?
The way each word or letter is said is called pronunciation. For example, the word ‘window’ begins with the letter ‘w’, so you must pronounce it with a /w/ sound and not a /v/ sound. If you pronounce this word incorrectly on the day of the IELTS speaking test, you will be marked down. Another example is the word ‘down’. If you pronounce it like the word ‘dawn’, you will lose points again.
Another important aspect of pronunciation is word stress. Words that have more than one syllable have a stressed syllable which means one syllable is said more strongly than the other(s). For instance, the word ‘ex-pen-sive’ has three syllables (the syllables are separated with hyphens) and the stress is on the second syllable (the stressed syllable is boldfaced). So, the next time you want to pronounce the word ‘expensive’ make sure you put the stress on the correct syllable.
In short, each language is made up of thousands of words and each word has its own correct and unique pronunciation. As a result, international tests like IELTS pay attention to how you pronounce the words of the language.
Your accent is your speech melody and refers to how you say phrases or sentences in a language, whereas your pronunciation is more about how you say individual words or sounds. You can find out if someone has an American or Australian accent only after listening to them for a few seconds.
In other words, their speech music tells you if their accent is American or Australian. As a result, a person’s accent can also give you information about where they come from as people from different countries have different accents. Although the pronunciation of the words in English are always the same, the accent people speak English with is not.
In summary, there is no correct or incorrect accent to speak English with, but there is always a correct pronunciation for any given word in English.
What if my mother language has a bad effect on my pronunciation?
If you cannot pronounce some words correctly because of your mother tongue, you will be marked down on the day of your IELTS speaking test. It is true that sometimes your mother tongue can have a negative effect on your pronunciation, but you should practice saying different words and sounds many times to finally be able to pronounce them correctly.
In many Asian countries, it is difficult for learners to correctly pronounce a word like ‘regularly’ because the sounds /r/ and /l/ can be a bit hard to say when they are close to each other. In order to solve this problem, most Asian learners spend a lot of time listening to the correct pronunciation of the word and saying it back to themselves out loud.
You can easily Google any English word that you think is hard to pronounce, and the Web will give you the meaning as well as the phonetic symbols (symbols that help you pronounce a word correctly).
If that is not enough, most of the words you Google also come with an audio recording you can play. Listen to the correct pronunciation a few times, and try to say the word exactly like the person in the recording. Make sure you say the words out loud because if you do it in your head, you might forget how to pronounce them later.
Can learning an American, British or Australian accent help me get a better IELTS speaking score?
The short answer to this question is ‘yes’. It can help you get a better IELTS speaking score not because of the accent but because by trying to learn a standard accent, you improve your chances of pronouncing English words correctly. Although different accents in English sound different, they all follow the correct rules of pronunciation. So, when you watch movies, listen to podcasts, or simply try to copy the way your favorite movie star speaks, you automatically become more and more familiar with how certain words are pronounced correctly. In the long term, this will have a very positive effect on your pronunciation and can help you improve your IELTS speaking score.
Your pronunciation and your accent are two different things. In the IELTS speaking test, your examiner will assess your pronunciation (how you say the sounds and whether you stress the correct syllables) and not your accent. Sometimes, your mother tongue creates problems because you find it difficult to pronounce certain words in English. The best thing to do in this situation is practicing the correct pronunciation and saying it out loud several times.
Although speaking with an American or British accent will not increase your score, learning such accents can have a positive effect on your pronunciation. So, if you try to learn to speak English with a British, American, or Australian accent, you automatically improve your chances of getting a higher mark for pronunciation on your IELTS speaking test.