English Communication Confidence Blog

American English Intonation Patterns

Jun 18, 2022

You will learn the intonation patterns of the five sentence types inside today's post. And when you do, you'll be on your way to speaking American English like a native. You just have to be ready to sing a little 🎶.

Video Transcript:

Jill: You know that monotone voice, right? That teacher whose voice is kind of flat and there's no inflection? Or that presenter who just doesn't know how to emphasize words well by using his voice? My name is Jill Diamond, and in today's video, you are going to learn the five different sentence types of American English.

You're going to learn how to use your voice, how to glide, how to step, and really how to emphasize your words so that you're using more melody in your voice. Hope you enjoy it.

Today we're going to talk about intonation. What I want you to think about when you think about intonation is -- I want you to think about the music. Intonation is the pitch... how we change or modulate our voice. Generally, we do that on specific words, and we do them in specific ways with different types of sentences.

Student: Okay.

Jill: The music is really important, the way that you emphasize your words are important -- whether you are giving a formal presentation, teaching a class like I am right now. It's important that I highlight words for you and I do that with my voice.

Let's look at our objectives.

We're talking about intonation today and our objectives are twofold. First, we want to learn the intonation patterns of the five sentence types. That's going to mean learning which words get emphasized and how to use your voice, how to actually change your voice for those words. Once we learn them, that's not enough. We have to use them correctly. Those are the two objectives that we're going to do today in our class. To get us started I want you to go ahead and read these two examples to me. Start with that. That one there.

Student: The conference call is at 10.

Jill: Okay, and the second one.

Student: Is the conference call at 10?

Jill: Now, you made a clear differential between those two sentences. Do you know what you did with your voice?

Student: Yes.

Jill: You do. Tell me what kind of sentence is this?

Student: First one is a statement.

Jill: How do we need to sound when we make statements?

Student: We need to sound affirmative.

Jill: Affirmative. When we make a statement, it's very important that our voice demonstrates that and we do that by bringing our voice down at the end. Which you did. Say it again.

Student: The conference call is at 10.

Jill: That's right. Basically, we're staying flat but then when we get to that keyword we're going to go up and down. When I say up, you'll notice that this is a straight line up it means that we step up. We jump up. We skip over some notes and we say "the conference call is at 10." Then we do something called gliding. We glide back down.

Student: Okay.

Jill: Now say that for me.

Student: The conference call is at 10.

Jill: That's right. Does it feel strange?

Student: Yes.

Jill: That's okay because you want to exaggerate in order to get a little bit with you when you walk out the door okay?

Student: Okay.

Jill: Again. Try it again.

Student: The conference call is at 10.

Jill: I want more stretching. I want you to step up. "The conference call is at 10" and glide down. Try.

Student: Okay.

Jill: More stretching in this section.

Student: No problem. "The conference call is at 10."

Jill: There you go. You need that. You need to use more length. It's not always just about the melody -- because you have a melody here -- but it needs to be longer too.

Now, here we have a question.

Student: Yes.

Jill: How does that sound? Read them.

Student: Is the conference call at 10?

Jill: What are you doing differently at the end?

Student: At the end sides, but we stretch.

Jill: Where? Which direction?

Student: Up.

Jill: Does it come down?

Student: No.

Jill: No, it does not. We cut, we start to go up on that keyword but it stays up. Our voice stays up. Ask it again.

Student: Is the conference call at 10?

Jill: I want you to use more gliding up. Use your hand. "Is the conference call at 10?"

Kind of like a ballerina. "Is the conference call at 10?"

Student: Is the conference call at 10?

Jill: That's right. Now did that felt strange for you?

Student: No.

Jill: Good. I'm glad it didn't feel strange because you held it more and it didn't sound exaggerated to me. From when you walked in this morning to now, you're stretching.

You're using more tone. You sound more comfortable.

Student: Yes.

Jill: Right? These are two of the sentence types: We have the statement and the closed question. Let's come over here to the board, and I want to look at the other three ... so bring your stress ball with you. We have talked about two of the different sentence types, right? Which ones?

Student: The –

Jill: -- Statement.

Student: Statement. [laughs] And --

Jill: -- Closed question. That's right. Now, what I didn't say before about the closed question is the closed question starts with either "is," or "do," or "will," or "would," right? That's really important to keep in mind. That's what will create that yes/no answer.

Student: Okay.

Jill: Okay, let me give you the pen for a moment and just as a reminder draw the pitch patterns for numbers one and two.

Student: All right. Straight line then it goes up --

Jill: Good.

Student: -- and slides down.

Jill: How about the closed question.

Student: The closed question is a straight line and it goes up.

Jill: And stays up.

Student: And stays up.

Jill: Good. Excellent. There's two things here that we're looking at. One way of using our voice is called stepping and another is called gliding. For example, when we go up on "10," we're stepping it ... we're skipping some notes. "The conference call is at 10" ... and then I'm gliding through the notes.

Student: Okay.

Jill: Okay. I just want you to keep that in mind because maybe I'm going to say you need to glide more or I want you to step here.

Student: Okay.

Jill: You can see clearly from this pattern that we're gliding, we're gliding up, okay?

Student: Okay.

Jill: Alright good. Let's look at this number three. Number three is what we're going to call an open question. An open question. Go ahead and read number three to me.

Student: What time is the conference call?

Jill: "What time is the conference call?" Now, first of all, there's nothing really clearly emphasized, but there is a particular pattern here. What time [pah-pah]. We're going to drop slightly. "What time is the conference call?" We're going to step up.

"Conference call." And we're going to come back down. But because the word conference has more than one syllable, we have to step up on the stressed syllable and come back down and then glide off -- [crosstalk]

Student: Okay.

Jill: -- the sentence. "What time is the conference call?" You try.

Student: What time is the conference call?

Jill: Say it for me. "Conference call." Take your stress ball. Say it for me.

"Conference call."

Student: Conference call.

Jill: Yes, that's right. Again.

Student: Conference call.

Jill: A little higher. [Pah.] Yes again. [Pah-pah-pah.] Good, you got it. Now say for me. "Conference call."

Student: Conference call.

Jill: That. Now you have more music in your voice. More movement in your voice.

Okay, right. "What time is the conference call?" No: "What time is the conference call?" You can punch it. You can grab it. Just -- you have to make that movement.

Try saying "What time is dinner?"

Student: What time is dinner?

Jill: Good. That was a good speed, but make the word "dinner" a little longer.

Student: Okay.

Jill: What time is dinner?

Student: What time is dinner?

Jill: Was that easier for you?

Student: Yes.

Jill: Yes. It could be because these two words together sometimes can be challenging. Now if I said to you "dinner is at 3:00 a.m." and you were like "What?" then you might say ... ask me the same thing as a clarification question. "What time is dinner?" I think surprise. It's a clarification question. The tone stays up. Try that.

Student: What time is dinner?

Jill: Yes. Right, thinking your mind "3:00 a.m."

Student: [laughs]

Jill: Right?

Student: Okay.

Jill: Say that again. "What time is dinner?"

Student: What time is dinner?

Jill: Got it?

Student: Yes.

Jill: That's called a clarification question. For example, if you look at number four, we have the exact same words as we had here in number three.

Student: Yes.

Jill: The difference is that here in number four its clarification. If the conference call or dinner is at 3:00 a.m. and you can't believe it "what time?" ... you start to hear this opposite where you jump up and then you stay up. Surprise. We show surprise with a rising intonation.

Student: Okay.

Jill: Right? Try that, "What time is the conference call?"

Student: What time is the conference call?

Jill: That's right. You're surprised or "what?" Again, we use higher tone we want to grab someone's attention. We use lower tone when we want to end the sentence.

Student: Okay.

Jill: The end of the thought. That's really a good way of thinking about intonation.

Student: Okay.

Jill: Okay? All right good. Then finally we have one more sentence type and go ahead and read number five to us.

Student: Is the conference call at nine or 10.

Jill: Okay.

Student: Again. [laughs]

Jill: You try again.

Student: Is the conference call at nine or 10?

Jill: Good, I liked what you did differently. You took the beginning of the sentence and you made it just like number two.

Student: Number two.

Jill: Right?

Student: Yes.

Jill: Because it is. But then we have this word "or" -- which means that we have to do something different after the word "nine." Try that again, what are we going to do?

Student: Is conference call at nine or 10?

Jill: If you just say, "is the conference call at nine or ten." You're not doing that extra high, show me the contrast between nine and 10.

Jill and Student: Is the conference call at nine or 10?

Jill: Right, skip, that's why you're stepping up here because you have to skip over some notes, try it.

Student: Is the conference call at nine or 10?

Jill: That's it. That's what I mean by stepping -- you're going to skip some notes, you got it.

Student: Got it.

Jill: You feel good about that?

Student: Yes got it.

Jill: The good thing that you got is that you're hearing it, you can draw it, you can use your hand you can play. Again, these are the very specific patterns of using intonation. Good, now I want to try doing some conversations and see how we do with the different sentence types.

Student: No problem.

Jill: We've learned the intonation patterns, but now I have to practice them. What I'm going to do is I'm going to draw out a subject, I'm going to ask a question and let's just get into a dialogue. As we're talking, I am going to take some notes, I'm going to be listening to the different types of pattern that you're using. In the beginning , I'll just take some notes but then I might stop and I might actually correct you and ask you to repeat after me. I want to make sure that you start to hear it while you're speaking. Here is the subject; let's get started. What tips can you give me for working on a team, let's talk about that a little bit?

Student: Tips about working on a team? Communication is the greatest tool you can use while you have a group of people working on a team.

Jill: Good, nice drop off the pitch.

Student: You need to maintain communication and open communication with everyone on your team just because you need to have that interaction with not only the person that is with you, but with the group of people that is working with you.

Jill: Good, I have a question for you. What if the other people aren't as open in their communication as you are, how do you manage that?

Student: We will have to discuss it, and we'll have to plan it, and we will probably have to use the pros and the cons when we're working on a team.

Jill: Good, I'm just going to stop for a second. Right now, I'm not hearing too much rising tone at the end of your statements, so that's good. But what I could use a little bit more of is when you have a keyword use that tone more ... step or glide the way that we were l earning here. Demonstrate that you're doing something different with your voice. You're not making any mistakes per se, but you could use tone more, all right? Tell me a little bit more or ask me a question.

Student: How do you see me working on a team?

Jill: Good, you come back down at the end. I see you as somebody who's very caring, I think you care about other people, you want to make sure what you're saying about open communication is important to you. I think you're going to make that effort to make sure the team is working, is that right?

Student: Yes, it is.

Jill: Can you give me an example of what time you had to do that?

Student: Yes.

Jill: Tell me.

Student: Sometimes when we have, let's say a deadline I --

Jill: "Sometimes when we have a deadline" ... you can use more intonation on that word.

Student: Sometimes when we have a deadline --

Jill: There you go.

Student: I feel the difference.

Jill: Good I'm glad.

Student: We might pull two people to represent us to do some research, and the other person might be able to do the components after the research is being done.

Jill: Good now, at first, I was going to say hold on that word research went up but that's because then you wanted to contrast it with the components of the research, you knew what you were doing. You kept your voice high because you wanted to keep my attention, you weren't done yet.

Student: Yes. [laugh]

Jill: You did it.

Student: It sounds different.

Jill: It's more precise, isn't it?

Student: Yes.

Jill: It's like you're delivering me the message you want me to really focus on.

Student: The research and the components.

Jill: That's right. You're stepping up, you're gliding down, you're not making questions with your voice when you want them to be statements, sounds good. All right good . What is the take away here today? What I want you to remember is let's just review the objectives. We had intonation as our subject, we talked about the five different sentence types. Then, not only did we learn what they are, the statements, the closed questions, the open questions, the clarification and the yes/ no, either – or right ... then we sat here and we practiced using the patterns and you told me that you heard it and it feels different.

Student: It does.

Jill: I see something in your face that's very exciting because you're not just understanding it, you're getting it, you're doing it and you just told that something went off like a light bulb went off for you.

Student: Yes, it's like I'm aware.

Jill: Good that's a big accomplishment.

Student: Yes.

Jill: In one lesson.

Student: In one lesson.

Jill: You can take that with you.

Student: Yes.

Jill: All right?

Student: Thank you.

Jill: Good job.

Student: [laughs]

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