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- You have 3-4 seconds to look at the text before the microphone opens, so use this time to break the text up into meaningful chunks, using the punctuation as a guide. This will show you the places where you can make a tiny pause and alter your intonation – going up when you begin reading a chunk and falling a little when you end a chunk.
- Using appropriate pausing helps you to read more fluently and give the full meaning of the text. This will improve your score. Look at where the pauses / are indicated in the example:
- Photography’s gaze widened during the early years of the twentieth century / and, / as the snapshot camera became increasingly popular, / the making of photographs became increasingly available / to a wide cross-section of the public. / The British people grew accustomed to, / and were hungry for, / the photographic image.
- Stress the words that carry important information
- When you read the text, stress the words that help to convey meaning, by reading them in a slightly louder voice and adding emphasis to key syllables, e.g., development. Also use rising and falling intonation patterns to show how the ideas are linked or are coming to an end.
- What you should never do
- Read without understanding
- Read in one breath
- Read without any variation in tone and speed
- Fake the accent without knowing about the actual pronunciation of the word
How to improve your pronunciation
We all tend to be influenced by the way we speak our mother tongue. Every language has its own peculiarities and so does English. Being mindful of the differences of English as compared to your language will help you assimilate the nuances more effectively. Below are some of the unique features of English in terms of pronunciation that sets is apart from some of the other languages.
Because identifying word stress is so important for communication in English, fluent speakers use a combination of signals to show which syllable in a word is stressed. The most important signals are the length and clarity of the vowel in the stressed syllable. Equally as important for contrast is unstressing the syllables that are not stressed by reducing the length and clarity of the vowel.
- Perhaps the most important way English speakers help their listeners understand them is by breaking the continuous string of words into groups of words that belong together. These smaller groups are easier to say, and can be processed more easily by the listener. A thought group can be a short sentence or part of a longer sentence, and each thought group contains a “focus word” (most important word) that is marked by a change in pitch. Understanding thought groups can also help improve reading comprehension.
- English depends mainly on intonation, or pitch pattern (“melody”), to help the listener notice the most important (focus) word in a thought group. By making a major pitch change (higher or lower) on the stressed syllable of the focus word, the speaker gives emphasisto that word and thereby highlights it for the listener. This emphasis can indicate meaning, new information, contrast, or emotion. We also use intonation to help the listener know what is ahead. The pitch stays up between thought groups (to show that more is coming), and usually goes down to show the end of a sentence (except Yes/No questions).
- We learn the rhythm of our native language in the first months of life, and tend to mistakenly apply that rhythm to any new language we learn. It is important to learn the unique rhythm of each language. English is one of the “stress-timed” languages, and the basic unit of English rhythm is the syllable.
- The rhythm of English is largely determined by the “beats” falling on the stressed syllables of certain words in phrases and sentences. Stressed and unstressed syllables occur in relatively regular alternating patterns in both phrases and multi-syllable words. In phrases, “content words” (words that have meaning) rather than “function words” (words with grammatical function only) usually receive the stress.
- Reduction helps highlight important syllables in yet another way—by de-emphasizing unstressed syllables. The vowel in an unstressed syllable is reduced in both length and clarity. The most common reduced vowel sound in English is the “schwa.” /ǝ/ Though represented by many different spellings, the schwa is always a short, completely relaxed and open sound (like second syllable in “pizza”).
- Contractions are another example of reduction. They reduce the number of syllables, and eliminate some vowels completely. (I am/I’m, you are/you’re, etc.)
- Connected speech is a general term for the adjustments native speakers make between words, “linking” them so they become easier to pronounce. Words that English learners might easily understand in isolation can sometimes be unrecognizable in connected speech. Likewise, English learners trying to pronounce each word separately and distinctly, as it is written, sometimes make it harder for native listeners to understand them.