Teaching intonation

Its not what you say, but how you say it.

When we speak, we express meaning through rising and falling pitch tones in our voices. Helping students to visualise the intonation patterns of English raises their awareness and helps them to achieve more native like pronunciation. A lot of the research to date has focused on the use software which gives students the opportunity to compare the rises and falls of their own intonation with native speakers.  While this research is useful in principle, many schools do not have the technological resources to teach intonation in this way.

  • How important do you think it is for students to learn English intonation?
  • Do you know of, or use any materials for teaching intonation? How effective do you think they are?
  • Can you think of any practical ways to help students visualise native speaker intonation in the classroom?

10 responses to “Pronunciation

  1. Hi everyone,

    One way of helping students to visualise intonation could be to read short sentences and ask students to draw the highs and lows of the pitch curve. You could perhaps start with multiple choice tasks until students get used to listening for intonation.

  2. Living in a country with a tonal language, I realized most native English speakers i came across who complained they wouldn’t be able to grasp tones were seldom aware of their own use of intonation –myself included. I like the idea of the pitch curve.

  3. The most useful form of learning a new language (I was born speaking Hebrew and for most of my life spoke English, and taught Hebrew in the US), is through popular songs. It’s an easy method, as most people relate to songs they like, by repeating the songs they work on pronounciation, and sound imitation is natural when singin. In addition, it’s a well known fact that singing comes from a part of the brain that’s different from singing, it’s easier to master it that way. The singer Mel Torme is a stutterer, but sings without any problem.

  4. Brodie

    Annunciation is regional and, now, fashionable. The ‘BBC’ delivery is now a thing of the past and are new benchmark I suggest is an amalgam of north London and midlands. All this from an Australian! Language delivery is liquid, it never stays in the same state long when out of the container. Counties and countries were containers. With the birth of the web we will end up with ‘winglish’, the global vernacular.

  5. Hey,

    Thanks for following my blog! 🙂

    I don’t have time to write a lengthy comment here, but you might be interested in this post that I wrote showing some practical uses for intonation curves, combined with a lexical chunk approach and with some fluency activities thrown in as well:



  6. Dominic Xavier Farrington

    A great method that I learnt from another teacher which can be used for intonation and word stress is to have students stand up and down with the rise, fall or stress. As students get more advanced you can have them partially stand up/sit down – best thing is it doesn’t require any resources. Really appeals to children and kinaesthetic learners.

  7. Thank you for following my blog. As I home school our two boys, I find your blog very interesting.
    We have a funny situation with regards to our boys and their English pronounciation. A little background: South Africa being an ex-British-rule country, British English is one of the compulsory subjects we have to learn. As family we also live in “The English Province” of South Africa, and furthermore in the city called “The Last British Outpost”!
    So for the most part, the English that our boys learn are British English, and sometimes with a “Pommy” accent as people lovingly call it. Then again, they pick up certain words from games, dvd’s and stories they watch, which is particularly American! And that which they hear, is what they stick to! Then we also have Indian neighbours, and if our boys play there for a while they come back saying some words with an Indian pronounciation!
    With regards to our home language, which is Afrikaans, there is no switch in pronounciation.
    Don’t know whether you have an answer for the situation? We have switched to a mostly English curriculum now, where I have to do a lot of reading out loud, so maybe they’ll settle with the Afrikaans-English (South African English) pronounciation. 🙂

  8. That’s because children learn language by imitating the behavior that they observe around themselves. Another factor that will eventually gain dominance is social identity with their perceived social group and they will subconsciously adapt the linguistic behavior of their group.

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