Making Your Voice Sound Natural Through Intonation Practice
What is Intonation?
There are roughly 6,500 languages being spoken in the world today. Each one has its own set of vocabulary words, sound patterns, syntax, and intonation.
That means that it's not enough to learn new words of a language. You also need to remember how to put these words together and how to say them for you to sound like a natural speaker.
When I first learned English, I focused on learning new words and putting them together in a sentence. The easiest way for me to do that was through conversation. A conversation pushes you out of your comfort zone and is the best way to practice using that new language in a natural setting.
Once I was comfortable enough conversing in English, I started to focus on intonation to make myself sound more natural. That didn't happen overnight. It took me sometime before I was comfortable enough with my conversational skills before I was ready for the next step. So don't beat yourself up if you're learning a new language, and it's taking you a while to start using it. It's not a race. Practice as much as you can, and you will get there.
Intonation is the music of the language. It's the way your voice rises and drops when you are speaking. It's the distinct melody of the sounds you use in any given sentence. If misused, it can change the meaning of what you're trying to say. Until you understand the intonation rules of a language you're learning, your speech may not sound natural, and your natural accent will take over.
2 Main Intonation Patterns in American English
In American English, there are 2 main intonation patterns.
- Falling: when your voice lowers its pitch at the end of the sentence, like in a statement or a regular question, that's not a yes/no. This is the most typical intonation pattern in American English.
- Rising: when your pitch gets higher at the end of the sentence, like in a yes/no question or while expressing anger or disbelief.
Your intonation is essential when you're:
- asking questions
- making statements
- stressing the importance of what you're saying
- listing things
- expressing your feelings
- contrasting things
- using tag questions
If this all feels overwhelming, don't worry. There are many ways you can practice your intonation.
- Record yourself talking. You must become aware of the way you speak. Listening to yourself talk will let you compare your intonation or the musical patterns of your sentences with those of American English speakers. You can record yourself reading a book with various types of sentences, such as questions and emotional statements. For example: Where are you going? Why are you doing this to me!? She was not very kind to me.
- Read along with a video of someone else speaking. You will need the subtitles of the clip. This will allow for additional practice. Make sure the person speaking has the accent you're trying to learn, in our example, American English.
- Print a paragraph or get a book with various types of sentences and mark up where your tone should fall and when it should rise. Practice reading that text extensively until it feels natural to read.
- Exaggerate your intonation, by making it sound bigger and louder than it should be. This will help you become more aware of your intonation when you speak.
Don't worry; you got this. It may sound complicated at first, but now that you're aware of what intonation is, you will be able to pay close attention to it in conversation. Be patient with yourself and practice. Remember, great things come to those who wait.