What’s the most important category of criteria on the speaking test?
As you probably know by now, there are four categories of criteria to judge your speaking score that are on the speaking band descriptor sheet. They are Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource (vocabulary), Grammar, and Pronunciation.
You may wonder if one category is more important than the others. My answer is YES.
Although each category is equally weighted at 25% of your score, and you are supposed to be judged separately and equally in each area, nonetheless, one area is still more important than the others. That area is PRONUNCIATION.
That is because all the language you produce comes through pronunciation. You can imagine that pronunciation is a type of filter that all the language must pass through. If the filter is clean (good pronunciation) then anything and everything that comes through it, be it good or bad (e.g. error free-grammar or grammar with lots of mistakes), sounds a little bit better (cleaner).
However, if the filter is dirty (bad pronunciation), then anything and everything that comes through it, even good grammar or vocabulary, sounds a little worse (dirty).
No doubt, a dirty filter lowers your overall IELTS pronunciation score more than any other criteria.
And let me say something else about the importance of English pronunciation and how it relates to jobs with English speaking companies:
Having a high IELTS, TOEFL, or TOEIC score is good and will ‘get you the interview,’ but it won’t get you the job. Once you are in the interview, it’s your ability to speak and be understood (pronunciation), and your ability to understand what the interviewer is saying (listening), that will truly help you get the job.
I have taught English in four different Asian countries over 18 years and have talked with countless foreigners who are looking for competent Asian staff. And no doubt, the one thing I have heard over and over again from these company owners/managers is that they want to find a candidate that they can understand when they speak, and they want that candidate to understand them when they speak (ask questions or give directions). Too often in Vietnam foreign managers get frustrated because they have some trouble finding a qualified candidate who can speak English clearly.
I assure you that Vietnamese who can speak English clearly (or mostly clearly) have a distinctive edge over others.
Therefore, I strongly recommend working hard at improving your pronunciation for both a potentially higher IELTS score and a better chance at a job with a foreign company.