Intonation: Everything You Need to Know

Here, the sound of one’s voice is used to express specific meaning. A good example is the way the voice inflects upwards towards the end when asking a question (a form of prosody). To define it in the simplest way, intonation is the fall and rise of vocal pitch and is often called ‘the music of speech.’ Primarily, intonation involves variation in the speaker’s pitch level, which could affect the meaning. Let’s imagine a scenario where a traveler asks a cabs driver if he would take him to his destination that’s 10 kilometers away. The first cab driver says ‘of course, get in’ in a flat and chilling voice. The second gives the same reply, albeit with a friendly and cheerful sound. The traveler is most likely to board the second vehicle as the driver’s intonation makes him feel safe and welcome.

In languages like English, intonation isn’t just about the pitch. It involves rhythm, accent, emphasis on specific words, and connected speech as well. Together, these factors help convey different expressions and attitudes, such as anger, surprise, caution, etc. Thus, intonation isn’t just about what an individual says. Rather, it’s about how he says it.

There are different situations where intonation matters. For instance, when asking ‘yes or no’ questions, rising intonation is mostly used at the end of the sentence. Rising intonation is also used where a speaker expresses high-energy emotions like fright, happiness, annoyance, excitement, etc. But a speaker making statements or sharing facts would use a falling intonation when closing a sentence unless he wants to emphasize or clarify something.

An individual can use different ways to improve his intonation. The simplest one is to be more aware of it. It’s a good idea to listen to other speakers carefully to notice how they use different intonations to express themselves. One can do this by listening to news anchors on the TV, recorded conversations of people on YouTube, etc.

Recording one’s voice and listening to it is another way to improve intonation. It’s best to do this with a friend where a film’s scene or a script from a coursebook is recorded. While playing the recording, one can try to evaluate if the intonations sound natural and express the desired emotions and attitude successfully. Such recordings are effective in tracking one’s progress as an individual can always rewind, listen once more, and record a new version.

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