Hi and welcome to the Voice Science Channel. If you’ve not met me yet, my name is Sarah. I’m an opera singer, speech pathologist and business owner who is obsessed with helping you to communication clearly and comfortably.
I live in Melbourne, Australia where I’m the director of Voice Science, a company that works in Strategic communication for individuals, companies and the medical sector all over the world. We do all sorts of things at Voice Science, so if you’re interested you should definitely check out the service page over on our website.
Today I specifically want to talk with you about intonation.
And here is what you are going to learn
- What does Intonation Mean?
- How concrete intonation is when we measure it using speech science.
- How native speakers also need to work on their intonation because they too can be out of tune when speaking
- How every language has different intonation patterns which can make you feel lost in translation
- Why it is worthwhile to tune up your English intonation
First and foremost, intonation is a musical term, I talk a bit about that on the blog that goes with this tutorial (make sure you check it out, I’ve linked it for you below).
But how does intonation relate to speaking English?
Well intonation is a feature of English that relates to what is going on under the words.
Specifically, it’s the “musical note pattern in a sentence.”
When you speak, your voice vibrates.
You probably know that for questions it’s usually higher at the end of the sentence, to show the question inflection, so take a look at this.
Here we can see the movement of the voice upwards in my speaking with this amazing program.
Watch me produce a few questions:
Do you like coffee?
What’s your name?
What do you do? AH see that- not all questions have rising intonation.
In this case, my voice dropped at the end. Surprising?
So now that you see the movement of my voice is measurable, are there things you need to know to get your English intonation in tune?
YES. Absolutely. Tuning up your English intonation will help your listener understand your feelings, emotions, intentions, because English uses intonation to specify the meaning and mood of what we are saying.
Do native English speakers have intonation problems?
Of course! I’ve met many native English speakers who have also had to work on their intonation.
Ever heard of monotone?
Check this out.
Yes, monotone is concrete and it looks like this.
See how my voice remains on the one tone or level for the bulk of my sentence.
MODEL: My name is Sarah and I am so excited to speak to you.
This behaviour will kill your listener’s interest in what you have to say and it could be a big factor you need to work on to build up your vocal tone to make it sparkly and interesting.
Do different languages have different intonation needs?
Yes, of course.
Tonal languages, in particular require even more specific movements in the pitch of the voice to build word meaning. If you make the wrong pitch “music” on the word, you’re at risk of saying the wrong thing.
If you’ve been learning English for a long time now, you might be feeling like you never covered intonation in class. And your probably right? I’m guessing you didn’t. This is an area of pronunciation training that lots of instructors feel uncomfortable about and depending on your first language you may find that expressing your feelings doesn’t transfer as well.
Before we wrap up I want to run you through the main learning objectives you should consider to tune up your English intonation:
- Intonation is used in English to organise your sentences so your listener understands when you are done with a sentence. At Voice Science, when we work on intonation in our Pronunciation clarity programs we often help clients organise the sound of their sentences so they can be better understood.
- Intonation helps your listener comprehend your message accurately.
- Intonation builds up your message, it adds suspense and interest so that your listener keeps tuning in. At Voice Science we use science based intonation training to add interest for clients who have an important keynote speech, need to do a TedTalk or even just want to improve their message in team meetings at work. This is something that ALL communicators can work on and we cover it often with native speakers as well.
- Intonation can be used to prevent your listener interrupting you (if you want to learn more about how to stop interrupting, you should definitely check out this mini tutorial). If you tune up your intonation you can get your message across more assertively.
- Intonation helps you to catch attention so that your audience / listener really understands the main message. If you feel like no one takes you seriously or if you notice that people are tuning out or not acting on your precise instructions intonation issues may be what is getting in the way.
- Intonation is your palette for expressing your emotions. If you are feeling like your soft skills or social skills are not great, your intonation might also need a tune up. If you want to work on improving your expression of emotion you should definitely check out this tutorial.
Different languages have different intonation requirements. When you move from your first language to your second it is normal to be “out of tune” with the melody of the mainstream native speaker.
I always want to remind you that all accents are unique and positive. There is no such thing as a bad or wrong accent. But as you know, there is a need for communication clarity so learning a few specific tricks with intonation can get you a long way with your English speaking.
The best process to use to improve your intonation is one that involves instruction around your target, the chance for you to produce the intonation needed and then specific feedback. This is best addressed by working with a speech pathologist with lots of insight into the musical features of speaking.
And guess what?
Our team does a lot of work in this area!
If you want to get some insight into how your intonation is going, you should definitely check out Your Personalised Pronunciation Audit. Not only do you get a tailored and comprehensive audit into every single sound of English so you know precisely which sounds you need to work on but we will also assess your speech intonation factors: pitch, tone, word stress, emphasis to make sure your message is transferring clearly.
Do you think your English is out of tune?
My German, Italian, French, Russian and Spanish are definitely out of tune at times with the intonation when I speak the texts that I need to sing as an opera singer and that’s ok. What matters is, what am I doing to get better? What have a tried to understand about the intonation in the languages I need so that I can communicate my message more clearly?
That can always be learnt and as you have seen today, there are lots of details underneath the pronunciation sounds.
If you are wanting to work on your English pronunciation clarity, don’t just focus on the sounds of the language, focus on the melody as well and if you are getting confused or stuck, you know where to find us.
Our advanced pronunciation clarity program (the Platinum Pronunciation Clarity program in particular) will really ground you in the main concepts you need to understand about intonation so that you can link your feelings and thoughts directly to your message.
Thank you so much for watching.
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Remember, your voice and message matter immensely no matter where you are and what language you are speaking in, so speak up and stay confident!
Have a great day and I’ll see you soon at Voice Science!