Accents and the IELTS Exam

March 20, 2018 by Lyla Hage

A common question regarding the IELTS test often centres around accents: hearing them during the IELTS Listening test and using them during the IELTS Speaking test. This post will share information about what to expect regarding hearing different English accents and improving your understanding of them, as well as speaking with an accent.

Before taking your IELTS test, I suggest the following:

1/Understand the format of the listening test

As mentioned in previous posts, it's strongly recommended that you know the format of all parts of the IELTS test before you take your test, including the timing, format, types of questions, etc.

A few key points about the listening test to keep in mind:

• The test is 30 minutes long, with an extra 10 minutes given to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
• The listening sections are on a pre-recorded CD, and you will hear each section only once.
• There are four sections to the listening test (for both the IELTS Academic and the IELTS General Training test):
     1/A conversation between two people in an everyday social situation
     2/A monologue in an everyday social situation
     3/A conversation between 2-4 people in an educational or training situation
     4/A monologue about an academic topic

• During the listening test, you can expect to hear a number of different voices and accents. You may hear North American (Canadian or American), British, New Zealand or Australian accents.
• Click here to view some practice tests to help you prepare.

2/Practice listening to different English accents

Since you know you will hear a variety of accents during the IELTS test, it is wise to get some practice listening to different English accents before your test.

Important note: The accents you will hear on your IELTS test will be “standard” accents; that is, they will be accents that are more likely to be heard in larger cities, such as Sydney, London or Toronto. You will not hear region-specific or rural accents, such as a rural Nova Scotian accent or one from the southern United States.

To get some practice hearing different “standard” English accents, I suggest you listen to news programs, television shows, movies, and radio programs, especially news and talk shows from Canada, English, and Australia. Check online for videos and listening exercises with speakers from different countries. I also suggest you visit your library, online or in person, to check out their audiobooks.

Another important tip to help improve your speaking and listening skills is to practice, practice, practice. Make an effort to speak and listen to English every day, and as much as possible.

Remember that it takes time to get used to accents and to improve your English - it does not happen overnight. But with some practice and exposure to the language and to different English accents, you are very likely to see some improvement in your language and your ability to understand different English accents.

3/Don’t try to change your accent

Some test takers worry about their accents, and some think they need to alter their accent during the IELTS Speaking test to get a better score, to be better understood, etc. I strongly suggest you do not try this! Rather, focus your energy and efforts on improving your vocabulary, organizing your ideas, speaking clearly and at a slow and natural pace. By doing these things, you are more likely to be better understood by your IELTS speaking examiner, and you are more likely to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas.

A few final words to keep in mind. Make sure you know the format of all parts of your IELTS test (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing). It cannot be overstated how knowing this format can help you prepare for your test. Also, take advantage of online practice tests and face to face and online IELTS prep courses. Take some time to familiarize yourself with different English accents by doing some research online and by listening to various accents.

Finally, don’t waste your time trying to change your accent for the test. Focus on preparing for your test and speaking clearly and naturally.

Good luck!

Lyla is an English language instructor working with international students and immigrants in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lyla loves everything about her work, especially helping people reach their language and learning goals.

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