In order to improve your intonation when speaking English, you need to develop sensitivity to the emotions and attitudes that native English speakers express through their tone of voice.
A deeper awareness of how we communicate meaning through intonation will help you become more socially and emotionally intelligent in conversations with native English speakers.
Once you’re able to identify the different emotions and attitudes expressed through tone, you’ll be able to start working on them in your own voice.
The challenge for many people is increasing the variety of tones that you express through your pitch and inflection.
That’s what we’re going to practice today with these intonation exercises.
Understand the Pitch Variation in Your Own Voice
To get started with intonation, you need to have an awareness of the pitch variation in your own voice.
After all, when we speak, we change our pitch consistently throughout our sentences.
If you’re completely new to pitch, please be sure to check out The Power of Pitch.
In that video, I give you a simple exercise that you can do in order to see what’s available to you in your own voice.
To change your intonation, you need to be able to use your pitch consciously and thoughtfully.
Depending on how pitch works in your native language, this can take some practice.
In this video on Pitch Exercises, we practice rising and falling intonation on a number of vowel sounds as well as short words.
These common pitch glides are often used to confirm whether you’re asking a question or making a statement.
Expressing More Emotions Through Your Tone of Voice
At this point, you may be comfortable with basic rising and falling tones, but in order to be more expressive in English, you’ll need to master a wider variety of emotions through your tone of voice.
If you’re not used to expressing a wide variety of emotions through your voice due to your cultural background, your personality, or your native language, this can feel challenging at first.
That’s why we practice.
Remember, this is about understanding what emotions are coming across in your speech, whether you intend them to or not.
if you want to sound more like a native English speaker, you need to be aware of what you’re communicating through your intonation.
Just remember, it may feel awkward or uncomfortable when we’re practicing, but it’ll definitely sound natural when you’re interacting with native speakers.
After all, that’s why we practice.
We’re trying to get more comfortable expressing these emotions through our voice on a regular basis.
Let’s get started!
Intonation Exercises: Practice Different Tones with Common Words
In these intonation exercises, we’re going to look at extremely common words that you will use all the time when speaking English.
We’ll start by saying a word neutrally, so that they’re clear and easy to understand without any particular rising or falling tone.
Then we’ll practice these words with normal rising and falling intonation.
From there, we’ll increase the rise or the fall in order to express more intense emotions.
At the end, we’ll practice them all together so that you can hear the difference.
On the screen, I’ll give you a few more clues, such as punctuation, the emotion I’m expressing, and whether your tone should be rising or falling.
Remember, as we move into more intense emotions, we tend to exaggerate the pitch rise or the pitch fall.
You may choose to pause the video in order to repeat the exercises a few more times or come back and rewatch the video in order to continue to practice.
Ready? Let’s go.
Intonation Exercise #1: Yeah
First, we’re going to start with the word “yeah.” (It’s a little more common in everyday speech than the word “yes.”)
- Yeah (neutral)
- Yeah. (falling)
- Yeah? (rising)
- Yeah! (enthusiastic)
- Yeah!! (excited)
- Yeah!!! (super excited)
- Yeah?? (uncertain)
- Yeah??? (surprise)
- Yeah… (disinterested)
Please note that there are more emotions you can show here, like annoyance, doubt, disbelief, or uncertainty.
These are just a few examples to get started.
Intonation Exercise #2: No
Next, let’s move on to “no.”
- No (neutral)
- No. (falling)
- No? (rising)
- No! (authoritative)
- No!! (forceful)
- No?? (uncertain)
- No?? (disbelief)
Intonation Exercise #3: Okay
Next, let’s move on to the word “okay.” As in many languages, we use this all the time.
Let’s practice different emotions you can show through your intonation on the word “okay.”
- Okay (neutral)
- Okay. (falling)
- Okay. (agreeing)
- Okay? (rising)
- Okay! (annoyed)
- Okay!! (irritated)
- Okay?? (uncertain)
- Okay??? (insecure)
As you’re probably noticing as I go through the examples, your facial expressions and body language can also help you produce the right emotion.
Intonation Exercise #4: Right
Next, let’s move on to “right.”
- Right (neutral)
- Right. (falling)
- Right? (rising)
- Right! (authoritative)
- Right!! (aggressive)
- Right?? (uncertain)
- Right??? (insecure)
Intonation Exercise #5: Hey
Next, let’s move on to the word “hey,” another word we use all the time in everyday speech.
- Hey (neutral)
- Hey. (falling)
- Hey. (disinterested)
- Hey! (authoritative)
- Hey!! (aggressive)
- Hey? (rising)
- Hey! (enthusiastic)
- Hey!! (excited)
Intonation Exercise #6: Maybe
Moving on, let’s talk about the word “maybe.”
- Maybe (neutral)
- Maybe. (falling)
- Maybe. (unconvinced)
- Maybe? (rising)
- Maybe?? (uncertain)
- Maybe… (noncommittal)
Intonation Exercise #7: Please
Last but not least, let’s talk about the word “please.”
- Please (neutral)
- Please. (falling)
- Please! (authoritative)
- Please!! (forceful)
- Please? (rising)
- Please?? (pleading)
- Please??? (begging)
After practicing different intonation patterns with the words “yeah,” “no,” “okay,” “right,” “maybe,” “please,” and “hey,” how do you feel?
Personally, I found it challenging to really isolate those emotions, but it’s really good practice to show more emotional variety when speaking.
Now that you’ve been able to practice with my intonation exercises, keep going with your own choice of words.
Don’t forget to practice your pitch variation with these exercises:
- Explore Your Pitch in American English
- Pitch and Intonation When Speaking English
- The Power of Pitch: Change Your Tone for Better Stress and Intonation in English
- Pitch Exercises: Improve Your Stress and Intonation with Steps and Glides
Ready to work on your intonation? Consider joining the Intonation Clinic, where you’ll learn how to change your pitch to express your meaning through your tone of voice.