Pronunciation Workouts to Improve Speaking and Listening Scores

June 8, 2018 by Tony Rusinak

What happens when you can’t understand what someone says in English? How about if they can’t understand you? Or what if you think you’ve understood each other only to find out you haven’t. We don’t always have our phones for translation, and we don’t always have a friend to help us understand. And, of course, this is particularly true on the IELTS exam. You just have to try your best to speak as clearly as possible on the speaking test, then listen as intently as possible for the listening. But how to improve? One common path to success is the no pain, no gain approach. This means that you just have to put the hard work in to see improvements. But how do you work hard to improve pronunciation? There are a multitude of ways. I have outlined a few good ones below.

Speaking Workouts

Daily Drills  

Have you ever learned a musical instrument? Remember how you had to practice every single group of notes over and over again? When doing this, for example, learning the guitar, you are learning muscle memory. Muscle memory is your brain programming your muscles to do a particular thing. Learning clear pronunciation is just like learning to play musical notes beautifully. It might be a surprise, but learning to say something correctly is actually a muscular exercise. All of those tiny muscles in your mouth, lips, and throat work together to produce sounds. So remember, when you find some good pronunciation activities, do them again and again until your speaking muscles get a good workout. If you “google” ESL pronunciation drills, you will find a lot to keep you busy.

Sing your Song

Part of your IELTS speaking score grades you on using stress and intonation to speak effectively. So what does this mean? This means that you should avoid sounding flat and boring, like a robot voice from the 1980s. It is essential to make the keywords jump out. When you speak, try saying the keywords a little longer, stronger, and even add some emotion. Connect your words together smoothly. An extreme example of this is singing. Can you imagine if every word sounded equally the same in a romantic love song? It would be terrible. It’s the same with speaking. Make it interesting. Sing a little bit. Try and connect with the listener by singing out those keywords.

The Pitch-perfect Parrot

Two Parrots looking at you

This is a great activity and can be really fun if you choose the right materials. Basically, you want to “parrot”, which means to copy, as closely as possible, a clear and compelling speaker. Go online. Find a good video of something interesting (we focus more if we are interested) where the person is speaking in English, like a movie clip, TV show, or a speech. Choose a short section of it. Then, press PLAY, PAUSE and finish with a repeat. Repeat the short clip again and again until you sound exactly like the speaker. Listen carefully for every little word and sound the speaker makes, then try and be entirely the same. This is an excellent way to really improve and learn all those small sounds and subtleties language learners often ignore.

Listening Workouts

Make it Multicultural!

hands on top of each other

As you may know, IELTS is a “World English” test. The listening tests are composed of a variety of different speakers, different topics, and different accents. This also goes for the speaking examiners. So, to avoid being caught off guard, try and listen to a variety of accents, topics, and people. Watch a drama from Australia on Monday, a Bollywood movie on Tuesday, and talk English to your Floridian fried on Wednesday… You get the picture!

Transcribe and Check

I have been teaching the English language for 17 years, and this is one of my favourite suggestions. It is a simple, but very useful way to practice understanding all those small subtle words native English speakers say. Another good thing about this activity is that you can do it on your own. The activity is basically this. First, find a video with native English speakers that has subtitles that go on and off. Turn the subtitles off. Watch a few minutes of the video and write down EVERY single word you hear. Use the PAUSE button if you need to. Play the clip again and again and try and write down everything. This is where you really get your listening workout. After that, turn the subtitles on, play the clip again, and check your answers.

There are a thousand ways to practice your ability to say and hear those subtle parts of the English language on your pathway to a higher score in IELTS. These are just a few. Learning a language is hard work and takes a lot of time to reach proficiency. Good luck on your journey, and remember… no pain, no gain!


intently (adjective)

To carefully do something

no pain, no gain (common expression)

You must work hard if you want success

multitude (noun)

a lot, very many

subtleties/ subtle (noun/ adjective)

small, important, and meaningful points

caught off guard (common expression)

to be shocked by something you were unaware of

Floridian (noun/ adjective)

Someone from the state of Florida, USA

to get the picture (common expression)

To understand an idea



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