Intonation is the natural music of English.
If you make intonation mistakes, it’s like playing in an orchestra with an instrument that’s out of tune. You’ll sound strange, even if you have good grammar and vocabulary.
Worse, you might communicate a wrong message or not be understood at all. Intonation is that important!
The good news is: it’s easy to avoid mistakes.
Today, I’ll guide you to practice 3 intonations for different situations, so you feel more confident about how you speak English. It’s a big step on your way to Master Real American English!
Hi, I’m your English coach Christina, and welcome to Speak English with Christina: Step by step English lessons to help you learn faster, feel more confident, and reach your full potential. And today, like every week, I help you move one step closer to fluently speaking real American English. Let’s go!
1. English Intonations: Falling intonation for statements
2. English Intonations: Rising intonation for Yes/No questions
3. English Intonations: Rising and falling for Wh- questions
4. English Intonations: Recap to remember
1. English Intonations: Falling intonation (for statements)
The falling intonation is the most common intonation pattern in English. You’ll hear it in a statement.
→ Statement = A simple sentence (affirmative or negative), not a question, not an exclamation. For example:
- “I like cookies.”
- “We don’t have time.”
- “Sarah is here.”
In a common statement, intonation falls slightly at the end. In other words, the last syllable of the sentence is a bit lower (in pitch), and a bit quieter.
You can hear examples in the video lesson. Try to listen to the falling intonation, and repeat the examples to practice.
When I was teaching English with businesses, managers often had trouble with the correct intonation in the beginning, and they often felt it was impossible to fix. But it is possible, and it can be done! You need to know the rules, but you also need action, practice. That’s what makes all the difference!
The extra mile:
You can learn the rules for modern American English and get tons of practice with Master Real American English!
2. English Intonations: Rising intonation (for Yes/No questions)
“Yes / No” questions are questions that you can answer with “yes” or “no” (they often begin with a verb like “do”, “be,” “have,” will,” “would”, “can”, or “could.”)
- “Will I be involved?”
- “Can they finish the project in time?”
- “Is English important or urgent?”
- “Is there a secret?”
- “Do you have an idea for a solution?”
In these sentences, the intonation rises at the end of the sentence. In other words, the last syllable sounds higher (in pitch), and a bit louder. It shows that you’re asking a question!
Use the examples in the video lesson to practice your intonation with Yes/No question, by repeating after me!
The extra mile: in phonetics (and in music) a sound that’s higher in pitch is also called sharper.
3. English Intonations: Rising and falling (for Wh- questions)
“Wh-” questions are questions that start with an interrogative words (adverb or pronoun) such as:What →
- “What do you want?” (in the video lesson)
- When → “When is the deadline?”
- Where → “Where do you want to go?” (in the video lesson)
- Why → “Why do we need to focus on this?”
- How → “How can I connect with my audience?”
- Who → “Who do I want to be in the world?” (in the video lesson)
- Whose → “Whose goal do we need to fulfill?”
- Which → “Which color do you want for your website background?”They all start with
“Wh-”, with the exception of “How” (sentences with “How” also follow the same intonation.)
Here the intonation rises on the most important word in the sentence, and then falls at the end of the question.
Can you hear that intonation in the examples I give in the video lesson?
Repeat after me so you can practice!
The extra mile : “Whom” is also an interrogative pronoun to ask about a person who’s the object of the sentence. But in real modern American English, we’d rather simply use “Who” instead.
4. English Intonations: Recap to remember
Intonation falls on statements: “I want to travel to the Bahamas.”
Intonation rises on yes/no questions: “Do you want to go with me?”
Intonation rises then falls on wh- questions: “Where do you want to go?”
There’s always something more to learn for speaking English, but remember: the goal is communication. You do not need to lose your accent to master real American English – you “only” want to be understood clearly.
You can find more lessons to improve your oral English here:
- English Pronunciation Games
- Gonna, Gotta, Wanna
- Differences between oral and written English
- Essential Expressions for English fluency
- American English comprehension quiz: Can you understand when Americans talk fast?
I’ll see you in the next lesson!
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