Have you ever listened to a guitar that was out of tune? Not enjoyable to say the least. You can have your fingers in the right place, be hitting all the right notes and even be playing with proper pacing. However, when the intonation is off, the sound just doesn’t seem right.
The very same thing can happen when we are learning to speak the English language. You may have mastered grammar, pronunciation, pace and even those pesky English idioms. But if you do not use proper intonation, you can be misunderstood or even misinterpreted as a rude or demanding person.
Here is a very simple example:
Where does she come from?
This is an open question (who, what, when, where, why, how) that could have a variety of answers. The proper intonation for these types of questions is to let your voice fall down at the end of the sentence. If you were to have your voice rise at the end of the sentence, this could be misinterpreted as a sarcastic or condescending way of speaking.
On the other hand, let’s consider the opposite scenario:
Do you live in California?
This is a closed question (requires a simple yes or no answer). Most closed questions call for a slight rise in your voice at the end of the sentence. If you were to let your voice fall down, you may be misinterpreted as speaking in a dictatorial way or totally disinterested in the actual response.
Intonation is an aspect of language that is secondary to the fundamentals of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Still, it is an important part of becoming a fluent English speaker.
I enjoy working with students on intonation. This is especially important for those that will use English in a professional environment or for public speaking. I look forward to working together on this frequently forgotten aspect of learning a language!