You might have heard people say that accent is not important for IELTS, and this is certainly true for the speaking test… but what about listening? People don’t often think about it, but actually it is a very important part of IELTS listening. In today’s article, I am going to explain why that is and what you can do to prepare more effectively.
Why Accent Matters
If you have some experience in learning English, you will by now have noticed that people from different countries speak with very different accents and dialects. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about dialects for IELTS listening, but you will certainly have to think about accent.
Accent refers to the way that people sound when they speak. You might think of English as being a classic London accent or even a Hollywood American accent, but there are many different types and they all sound quite different. This means that those people would sound different when saying the same things, and this can be a problem for English learners.
Let’s think of a common word: water. This would be said very differently in London or Liverpool or Glasgow or New York! The speaker’s origin would significantly affect the sound of the word. In England, they usually have strong “t” sound in the middle. In Scotland the “t” is often omitted. In America, the “t” becomes a “d” sound. It’s very confusing!
In the IELTS listening test, you will hear people from all different countries where English is the first language. These include England, Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and a few others. Because these people all speak with unique accents, you need to be familiar with them in order to give yourself the best chance of success.
**Note: We should point out here, however, that although lots of different accents are possible, you will not be presented with very extreme accents and everyone that records audio for IELTS is required to speak in a fairly standardised form of English.
Accent and IELTS Listening Practice
Considering the above ideas, it is thus very important that you incorporate different types of accent into your IELTS listening practice. This can be done in many different ways.
First of all, you need to make sure that you practice your IELTS listening skills on a daily basis and that you do so from a wide array of sources. It can be tempting to simply practice from one type of source constantly (for example, your favourite YouTube channel) but this is only going to help you to a limited extent.
You need to hear different kinds of accents, so that means you really should make a conscious effort to use different types of material. Try British news shows, American documentaries, Australian YouTube channels, and so on. Expose yourself to as many different types of spoken English from as many different regions as possible.
You can also focus on those that are particularly difficult to you. For example, some people find that the differences between American and Australian English are really pronounced and cause problems in listening comprehension. If that is true for you, you should plan your IELTS listening practice accordingly. Listen to more Australian shows if that is hard, or more American ones if that is your problem area.
What to Listen to
When it comes to different listening sources, you are really spoiled for choice. In the modern era, as long as you have an internet connection, you can choose from a great range of sources.
As I have previously mentioned, you should aim to incorporate different accents, so that means choosing material from different countries. However, you need to mix this with different topics and formats. It is good to watch movies and TV shows, but also try podcasts and radio shows so that you can practice purely listening, with no visual cues. This is really important.
Podcasts are one of the best options because you just listen and can’t see anything to help you. These also cover a range of topics and so they’re perfect for IELTS listening practice. Look up some podcasts on sports, health, news, entertainment, and so on. It is good to use IELTS topics, but even general themes can be useful.
Try going to your favourite podcast app or website and then looking through the top shows. You can sometimes filter by region, so that would help you to find certain accents. You can either choose a show that sounds interesting or else choose a topic (politics, environment, etc) that you want to study for. Then sit and listen whilst actively making notes or questioning yourself on the content.
When you listen to these, note whether some accents or topics are harder than others. This can help you to guide your future practice because it is important to devote more time to areas of difficulty.