Listening – 5 Tips on How to Deal With Accents on the Test

September 14, 2016 by Tony Rusinak

What’s the difference between Nicole Kidman, the Queen of England, and Justin Bieber? Actually, this isn’t a joke. Just as the Queen, JB, and Nicole are very different people, so is the way they speak. Accents can differ as much as the people who speak them. And like different people, some accents are much easier to understand than others. The IELTS test won’t give you a crazy accent that isn't standard, it will give you a range of common ones. To deal with this, you should do what you can to be prepared. Below are five things you can do to increase your chances of a higher band score on the listening test.

#1 - Embrace Different Dialects and Synonyms

Test Taker defines dialect as a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group. As most of us are aware, there are many ‘Englishes’ around the world. With that, there are many dialects. When studying vocabulary, it’s a great idea to try and find out what other English speakers call the same thing in different places. Not only will this help build your range of vocabulary, but it might also help you understand challenging accents better. 

Try your knowledge in this area by completing the table below.
Englishes table
#2 - Know the Format of the Test

If an unfamiliar accent troubles you, then you might also be troubled by unfamiliar test procedures. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to do two things. First, learn the format of the listening test. Second, practice doing the IELTS listening exactly as it is done during a real exam.

The basic steps for the listening test are as follows:

  1. Receive the question paper and keep it closed on your desk.
  2. Fill in your information.
  3. Listen to and read all instructions carefully.
  4. Listen to four recordings. The accents here may be different.
  5. Answer all questions while listening. You only have one chance to listen! This is done on the question paper.
  6. Take 10 minutes to copy your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet.

More detailed information and practice tests can be found on the IDP Website.

#3 - Be a Movie Star!

 Although this post focusing on listening, a great way to truly understand an unfamiliar accent is to speak it. Producing the key accent will force you to listen very carefully to the nuances it has. This can be a really fun activity, especially if you mimic some of your favourite characters from films. A few different accents you might want to play with are Brad Pitt in the movie Snatch, Nicole Kidman in Australia, or Rihanna and other voices in the animation Home.

#4 - Take the Subtitle Challenge

Before or after you have found the movies you want to practice accents with, you should try a very useful activity for learning how to listen to those hard-to-understand accents. Follow these steps:

  1. Find a part of a movie you like with a challenging accent. It should be between five and ten minutes. Choosing one you like. This will make it more motivating and interesting.
  2. Get some notepaper and a pencil.
  3. Using play and pause, write down every word you hear. NO subtitles.
  4. Replay the clip, but this time, add subtitles.
  5. Using the subtitles, check your notes to see how accurate you are.
  6. Highlight any strange vocabulary or sounds you had trouble with.
  7. Practice listening and saying those troublesome sounds again and again until you are comfortable with them.

 Movie Caption Image#5 - Same Story Different News

If you like listening to the world news every day, why not try it from different countries. This will keep you informed and give you a perspective from different countries. A great resource for this is national radio websites such as…

From these sites, try and find news items on the same story. After that, ask these questions:

  • How do different dialects tell the same story?
  • How are they similar?
  • How are they different?
  • Which are easy to understand? Which are not? Why?

These type of activities will certainly give you more awareness and hopefully more confidence when taking the listening test. But remember, learning English well is something that takes most people thousands of hours. So, why not have fun doing it! Good luck.


IELTS Expert

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