Home / English Lessons / Intonation: Finishing a Statement | Part 2 | English Pronunciation Lesson

Intonation: Finishing a Statement | Part 2 | English Pronunciation Lesson

This lesson is from the Elemental English pronunciation series on Intonation:

 

Listen to the audio!

The musical pattern of ups and downs in your speech–in both the middle and end of your sentences–is called intonation.

In English, there are three intonation patterns:

  1. Rise  arrow 5
  2. Full fall arrow 6 copy
  3. Partial fall arrow 6 copy 2 

These different musical patterns communicate different messages to your listener.

Compare the following two sentences:

  • “He’s 40 years old.”  arrow 6 copy

versus

  • “He’s 40 years old?!” arrow 5

Do you hear the difference?

The wording is exactly the same, but the change in sound after the last content word (“old”) changes the entire purpose of the speech.

  1. In the first sentence, the speaker is merely making a statement, reporting a man’s age.
  2. In the second utterance, the speaker is using intonation and a high pitch to show surprise.

In English, the burden is on the speaker to be very clear. The listener should not work hard to understand communication. Therefore, speakers of English use the falling intonation pattern to tell the listener that he or she is finished with a sentence.

Example

  • “I really want to improve my pronunciation.”

The pitch (the musical note) goes up on the focus word, “pronunciation”, which gets the highest pitch. We then go down on and after that same word to tell the listener: 

we are done with our sentence.

And if appropriate, it tells the listener, “Now, you can speak!”

First, practice the intonation in this sentence slowly, so that you can hear the change in the musical notes, i.e. the change in pitch in your intonation pattern. Remember also to de-stress your function words and stress your content words to maintain the rhythm of English.

Listen and Repeat (slowly)

  • “I really want to improve my pronunciation.”

Listen and Repeat (normal speed)

  • “I really want to improve my pronunciation.”

Could you hear the subtle ups and downs in the music of my speech?

(Side note: Notice how I transformed “want to” –> “wanna”)

Listen and Repeat (normal speed)

  • “I really want to improve my pronunciation.”

Let’s practice. Remember that the pitch of your voice (the musical note) should:

  • go up on the focus word; then
  • fully fall at or after the focus word

to tell your listener that you have completed the sentence.

Listen and Repeat

  • “I’m traveling to New York today, then to California next week.”
  • “I would love to get a Masters degree in America, the UK, or Australia.”
  • “She prefers cooking at home over eating out.”
  • “We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.”
  • “They really shouldn’t have gone out without asking our permission first.”
  • “My cell phone number is (347) 555-1212 (notice how I pause between groups of numbers).
  • “You can text me and let me know where we’re meeting.” (Note that Americans say “text” instead of “SMS”)

Native English speakers use intonation unconsciously and out of habit. So, if they don’t hear the correct intonation pattern, they may not understand your message as you intended it.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Elemental English podcast on iTunes.

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2 comments

  1. hey, quite a long time since i last visited. i train myself everyday and i realize that my biggest problem is the accent. i am a chinese student and it is very hard to get rid of my original accent. Any way to improve it? thanks a lot =)

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