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IELTS Listening: Spelling out names

IELTS Listening: Spelling out names

How important is it to spell words correctly in the IELTS Listening test? The British Council’s LearnEnglish site answers this question clearly and succinctly: ‘Everything must be spelled correctly.’ That means that if you spell a word wrongly in the test, you will lose a point. In this blog post we’re going to look at one common pitfall – spelling out names.

In the IELTS Listening test, you may have the answer spelled out for you. For example, one of the speakers might spell their name, and you have to copy it down. It might be a dialogue like this:
Speaker 1: And your name please, for the delivery form?
Speaker 2: It’s McDougal.
Speaker 1: McDougal? Can you spell that for me please?
Speaker 2: Sure. M-C-D-O-U-G-A-L.
Speaker 1: OK, thank you Ms McDougal…

The problem

This can present a number of challenges if you are not used to listening to words being spelled out in English:

  1. Some English letters sound similar to each other: m and n, for example, are very similar so you have to listen carefully.
  2. Some English letters sound like different letters in other languages. For instance, j in English sounds like g in French.
  3. Two English letters may simply sound the same in your language. A Spanish speaker might find it difficult to tell the difference between b and v.

The solution

Here are two exercises you can practise to try to overcome these problems. 

Exercise 1

Start with this video, which will take you through all the letters of the alphabet as they are pronounced in English.

  1. Watch the first 45 seconds of the video. Listen, stop and repeat the letters out loud. Check that you are pronouncing them correctly. Alternatively, read the whole alphabet into the audio recorder on your phone. Then alternately play the video and your recording to make sure they sound the same.
  2. Start the video again (at approximately 1 minute) and minimise the page. With a pen and paper, write the words you hear. You may find the words (e.g. apple) fairly simple. Remember that you are focusing on the way the letters are pronounced rather than trying to recognise the words.
  3. Open up the video again and watch from 00:47. You should now check your spelling.

Once you have had a go at listening to the way English letters are pronounced, you should move on to more focused IELTS Listening practice.

Exercise 2

Now try listening to names.

  1. Watch this video.You will hear names being pronounced at normal, native-speaker speed — just like in the test itself. The speaker spells out 20 names for you to practise with.
  2. Make sure you minimise the page so you don’t see the answers straight away. With a pen and paper, write the words you hear.
  3. Open up the video again. You should now check your spelling.

What’s next?

Improving your spelling will help you not only in the IELTS Listening test but also in the IELTS Reading and Writing sections. British Council Manager Peter Hare said in this blogpost: ‘The problem is that spelling in English is notoriously difficult. The only effective way of improving your spelling is to learn words one by one…’ Peter gives advice on how to improve your spelling and where to focus your efforts. Click in and have a read!



  1. Elisabeth Volmary says:

    Hi Andrew!

    I was wondering if the correct capialisation of a word is also important?
    When it comes to words like “club lounge”, these are sometimes spelled with capital letters in the answer sheet. Do I get still get a point if I write down my words without capitalisation?

    • Hi Elisabeth. We may need more context for where the phrase ‘club lounge’ comes from (e.g. Is it provided in the Listening Question Paper in title-case i.e Club Lounge, or is it just referred to generically), but normally you will be fine writing either in all-caps or just small letters. Hope it helps!

      • Elisabeth Volmary says:

        Hi Andrew,
        I am unable to find the test I was referring to, but I can give you some more examples:

        In the reading test 7, number 11, “Scholarship” is capitalized, even though it is not at the beginning of the answer text, nor capitalised in the reading text itself.
        Also for number 12 of the same test, “Commonwealth games” has a lower case “game” , but a upper case for “Comonwealth”, whereas in the text it is both capitalized.

        Further, in reading test 9, number 17, “ice shelves” is written with lower case letters, even though it is at the start of a sentence.

        Another example I found is in the listening test 1, number 31, where “negative” is spelled in lower case letters, while in the same table “Positive” is spelled with an upper case letter.

        Finding many more discrepancies, I was wondering whether capitalisation will be a criteria that decides upon the point one can get or loses.
        If so, would you recommend me to write everything in capital letters?

        Kind regards

        • Hi Elisabeth, thanks for the explanation. In Reading and Listening, capitalisation have no effect on your score. In Writing, however, you are expected to show good awareness of grammar so using commonly accepted capitalisation becomes important. Hope this helps.

  2. jigon says:

    what if your answer is correct but just written in different way to actual answer e.g. Half past 7 or 7:30 although half past 7 was mentioned in speaking

    • Hi Jigon, thanks for your question. Even though both ‘half past 7’ and ‘7:30’ are correct. In Reading or Listening, you may want to look at how many words you are permitted to write. In many cases, there will be a word limit (usually 1-3) so you should be careful. To us, the safest way is to write them with numbers (e.g. 7:30).

  3. Ashima Handa says:

    That’s really important to spell out words correctly in IELTS listening and your method of how to spell the word of IELTS listening is very correct and i think it will become very useful for some IELTS students.

  4. Candidate says:

    I need some tips or help. I did IELTS GT CBT 5 times and I am stuck at 7.5 in listening and need 8. My score in other modules vary in every attempt except in listening. I don’t know what to do.

    • Hi there! Have you tried Road to IELTS? We have plenty of tips for Reading, Writing and Speaking, and have recently added 10 mock tests in the computer format! Doing more of these test simulations will help you get a higher mark in your next IELTS. Good luck with your next IELTS. Hope this helps!

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