Home » IELTS Listening: Help! I don’t understand the accent!

IELTS Listening: Help! I don’t understand the accent!

IELTS Listening: Help! I don’t understand the accent!

The problem

One of our frequently asked questions is about accents in the IELTS Listening test. IELTS is an international test, so you might hear a range of different accents, including Australian, British, New Zealand and North American. Remember that you only hear the audio once in the Listening test so you need to be absolutely confident that you can pick out every detail first time. An unfamiliar accent can get in the way of that. While there will not be any difficult regional accents, you should at least be familiar with a range of ‘standard’ accents that you may come across.

The solution

Start by reading this extract from a report from the US Library of Medicine:

‘It is well known that there is a processing cost when listening to speech in an accent other than one’s own, but recent work has suggested that this cost is reduced when listening to a familiar accent widely represented in the media, and/or when short amounts of exposure to an accent are provided.’

This means that ‘short amounts of exposure’ to an unfamiliar accent really can help you to understand it. So when preparing for your test, it’s sensible to spend some time listening to the test’s most common dialects. It’s not difficult to find content online from all around the world.


To start off, you can try listening to these radio stations and podcasts:

But you don’t have to restrict yourself to these accents, or even radio stations. You can find all sorts of media to practise listening to different accents.


Youtube and TED talks are great educational resources. TED speakers come from many different countries, and often the talks have transcripts, so you can check the accuracy of your listening. Here are three examples from the Top 20 TED talks:

IELTS content

You’ll need a lot of practice from a range of sources to get a good IELTS band score. Try using tunein.com to find radio stations worldwide. This way, you can hear accents you may not have come across before like a Louisiana or Caribbean accent! If you want to listen to different accents in the context of IELTS, then try accessing the many IELTS Listening practice tests that are available online. You’ll find that the activities and practice tests include a variety of accents to give you an authentic IELTS experience.

What’s more…

Make sure you actually know what to expect in the test – and understand all the task types. Learn all the basics of the IELTS Listening test here.

Check out our other guides on IELTS:

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