English Communication Confidence Blog

American English Intonation Patterns: "Hi Jill"

May 12, 2022

If you don't like the sound of your voice or you are having trouble feeling comfortable using American English intonation patterns in your communication. Check out this post and learn the basics about gliding. 

Video Transcript:

It's very common to hear people say "hello" with the wrong intonation. So, for example, I often hear, "Hi Jill." "Hi Jill." And if you listen carefully, there's one tone or just a couple tones. "Hi Jill." There's no gliding, there's no stepping. There's no movement through those simple words. But, if you want to sound more American, you need to have that gliding through both words. So, we would sound more like this. "Hi, Jill." Listen again. "Hi, Jill." And if I say it naturally, it's going to sound like this: "Hi Jill." But there's movement through both the word "hi" and the word "Jill." And that's what you need to work on: taking the smallest of phrases and getting comfortable with the sound of your voice going up and coming down.


Check out these FAQs related to today's post:

Q. Won't I don't sound funny in business meetings if I exaggerate the intonation this way?

A. That is a fair question, but I can guarantee you that in the real world you won't do half as much intonation as you do when you are learning and practicing. But, the key point is that you must make an effort to warm up your voice with intentional modulation in your voice. It's kind of like not swinging through when you hit a baseball. If you just let the bat hit the ball, but you don't let your body swing the bat across your body for a follow-through, you are never going to hit a home run. When it comes to emphasizing words, especially FOCUS words, you've got to stretch the intonation muscle to a place of discomfort. Then, you get familiar with the sound of your voice. And, when you get into a business meeting to sell your ideas, give your presentation, or try to interject, you'll use a small percentage of the range, you'll be familiar with the sound of your voice, and you'll probably hit a home run with your messaging.

Q. I'm Italian and we like to speak with a lot of passion and pitch. How can I be sure to not lose my cultural and emotional characteristics when practicing American intonation patterns? 

A. When we speak a second language, part of speaking it well, includes taking on the culture. So, although we'd never want you to lose your Italian culture, you would want to get as close to your second language (in this case English) intonation patterns. In English, we stay relatively flat unless we are stressing a syllable or a FOCUS word. And putting your passion into your communication is always appreciated. Meaning, add pitch change and a colorful voice wherever you think it will add to your message. If I'm not mistaken, Italians use a lot of hand gestures when they speak, that's something you most definitely should add when you speak English. It will help you retrieve vocabulary from your brain AND you can use the gesture on stressed syllables and words which can help you use intonation correctly. 

Q. Do different parts of the United States use different pitch patterns? 

A. Yes. Every part of every country has what we call dialects. Those dialects include unique vocabulary from that part of the country and different accents. The accent difference comes in primarily with the shape of the vowel sounds. In the U.S., we've got some parts that turn pure vowels into diphthongs and we've got some parts that use rising intonation on statements when they should generally drop in pitch to indicate that it isn't a question. I see this phenomenon coming out of California and pop culture. If you listen to someone under 40 years old today, you'll even hear how this rising inflection has seeped into much of the younger generations. But, to answer your question, there are definitely different lilts to the voice depending on which part of the country you live in.  


If you enjoyed this post about intonation patterns and gliding and you'd like more on the topic, why not check out my OnDemand course, Find Your Stage With English Communication Confidence, and do Module 5: Sing Your Speech today. 

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