How to Get Better at Intonation When Speaking English

12 September 2016

Intonation is your speaking pitch and tone - same as singing

Intonation is the variation in pitch when you speak. Intonation is absolutely critical in spoken English and can often change the meaning of an entire sentence! Research shows that getting your intonation right in spoken English can impact your overall intelligibility more than almost any other pronunciation practice you can do.

Here’s 5 easy exercises to get started with:

1. Make sure you know intonation rules.

You can find them here.

2. Practice easy ones first
Try saying the same sentence with a falling intonation to make it a statement and with a rising intonation to make it a question.
“We’re having pasta for dinner.”
“We’re having pasta for dinner?”

3. Use your hands to represent your intonation
When you’re doing intonation exercises, move your hands in the air in front of you to represent the falls and rises of pitch. This sounds odd but can be really helpful.

4. Try saying the same sentence but with different attitudes
Intonation helps us convey our emotions and attitudes. Different intonation on the word ‘Hello’ can show different attitudes of the speaker to the listener. Try saying ‘Hello’ the way you would to the following kind of people:

  • A co-worker
  • A friend you haven’t seen in years
  • A stranger
  • A person you don’t really like.

5. Mimic a native speaker’s intonation
Listen to a YouTube video, pause it after each phrase, and repeat trying to mimic the intonation. Don’t worry about the sounds. If it helps, try to hum the intonation first.

Posted by: Ksenia

Ksenia is our linguist, specializing in accentedness. She is interested in how accents change and how people can hear accents differently.