English Intonation- How to improve it

Eng­lish Into­na­tion- How To Improve It

Eng­lish into­na­tion, or into­na­tion in any lan­guage, can be described as the music or melody of the lan­guage. It’s a pro­nun­ci­a­tion fea­ture that is about how we say some­thing rather than what words we’re using.

Eng­lish Into­na­tion – The Main Ele­ments

  • How high or low your voice is -the pitch
  • Stress cer­tain syl­la­bles or words
  • paus­es for where you would expect a com­ma –rhythm
  • vary vol­ume to con­vey empha­sis

Eng­lish Into­na­tion- Why It’s Impor­tant

Eng­lish into­na­tion con­veys mean­ing, atti­tude and some­times gram­mat­i­cal struc­tures.

Dr Brecht­je Post of the Pho­net­ics Lab­o­ra­to­ry in the Depart­ment of The­o­ret­i­cal and Applied Lin­guis­tics describes into­na­tion as “the melody of lan­guage”. “It sig­nals,” she explained, “how the speech stream is struc­tured and what cat­e­go­ry of state­ment you are mak­ing. See arti­cle.

For exam­ple let’s take the sen­tence: ‘I want to come to the par­ty.’

I can say it with enthu­si­asm, high­er pitch empha­sis­ing ‘want’ etc, and you would under­stand that I real­ly did want to come.  If I said it with a flat tone or pitch, and gave all the words the same stress and didn’t empha­sise any par­tic­u­lar word, you would under­stand that I am either depressed or real­ly am not that inter­est­ed.  I can say the same sen­tence and use ris­ing pitch on par­ty and then pause- ‘I want to come to the par­ty…..” This time you would get a dif­fer­ent mean­ing – maybe there is a ‘but’ com­ing (but I have an exam etc).

Into­na­tion con­veys atti­tude or how some­one feels about some­thing- sad, bored, hap­py, excit­ed, inter­est­ed, annoyed, sar­cas­tic, dis­ap­prov­ing etc, which intrin­si­cal­ly changes the mean­ing you make of the words. Con­verse­ly, if you don’t incor­po­rate cor­rect Eng­lish into­na­tion in your speech, peo­ple won’t under­stand you very well.

Gram­mat­i­cal­ly, we change the into­na­tion depend­ing if it’s a state­ment, ques­tion etc.

Eng­lish Into­na­tion- How to improve it

1) Begin to attune your ear to Eng­lish into­na­tion. This means lis­ten for it when native Eng­lish speak­ers talk. This may be peo­ple around you or peo­ple on TV or in a movie. You could even get a DVD which is easy to pause or rewind, and lit­er­al­ly mim­ic the melody of how they say some­thing. Keep doing this so your ear and mouth get prac­tise in using good Eng­lish into­na­tion. You can even do this at the same time as they are say­ing it so you are get­ting simul­ta­ne­ous feed­back.

2) Lis­ten to Eng­lish audio train­ing sen­tences and pas­sages and mim­ic them. Record your­self say­ing what they are say­ing and lis­ten to your­self to see if you are going up where they do (includ­ing  which syl­la­ble inside a word the pitch goes up); empha­sis­ing what they do (make the word slight­ly loud­er); pause or run words togeth­er where they do. As you prac­tise this, you’ll nat­u­ral­ly begin to hear the into­na­tion in the Eng­lish speak­ers around you, and it will be eas­i­er to copy.

3) Take a sen­tence some­one has said on a video or audio train­ing and exag­ger­ate the into­na­tion so you notice it more in the begin­ning. Then you can tone it down once you get the idea.

4) Take a sen­tence and prac­tise it using dif­fer­ent into­na­tion each time- empha­sise dif­fer­ent words, stress dif­fer­ent syl­la­bles, go up or down with your pitch on dif­fer­ent words and pause before or after dif­fer­ent words etc. This way you begin to get some mas­tery of these ele­ments, and also you’ll  get more under­stand­ing of how it changes the mean­ing, and how you can mod­u­late the mean­ing.

Please feel free to com­ment or ask ques­tions in the com­ments below if you need more infor­ma­tion. Best wish­es, Esther

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