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Sound Natural & Native with Intonation Templates


(Video Transcript)


What’s the difference between a robot and a human?


Okay, let me be more specific.


What’s the difference between robot communication and human communication? 


In one word: emotion. 


Happiness, anger, excitement, surprise, embarrassment - these are emotions that humans feel every day, and these emotions are part of how humans communicate.


But how comfortable are you with expressing your emotions when speaking American English?


Expressing emotions is difficult, especially in a language that’s not your native tongue. But emotions are a necessary element of your speech. Without them, you end up sounding like a robot.


And that is not what you want when speaking American English.


This video will teach you how to get rid of the robot and express emotions in your American English. 


When I think of emotion, I think of one thing: Intonation. Intonation is the melody or the music of your speech. Is your voice going up, or is your voice going down, or is your voice remaining flat as you speak. 


Emotion is conveyed through intonation, and if you want to become a master speaker of American English, you must, must, must learn how to control the intonation of your voice.


Intonation can be divided into three main categories:

Upward intonation, which is when the voice moves up in pitch.

Downward intonation, which is when the voice moves down in pitch.

And flat intonation, which is when the voice remains on the same pitch.


The most exciting speakers of American English use all three types of intonation to convey emotions through their words, in addition to other vocal elements like volume, rate, pausing, etc. But intonation is the main vocal element of emotion.


In my experience, the intonation of speech - the melody or the music of speech - is the hardest element to imitate, especially for non-native speakers. It’s difficult to isolate the intonation of someone’s voice because your brain is too busy focusing on the words that the person is saying, and this might include translating those words from one language to another. So your brain is busy doing other important things - the melody of those words may not even register.


So to help you with the intonation of your speech - the melody, the music - I’ve created intonation templates for ten common emotions and how these emotions are typically conveyed in American English. These templates can help you improve your intonation skills in two ways: one, the templates can help you to identify the emotion that a speaker is trying to convey, and two, the templates can help you to convey the correct emotion when you speak American English.


We’ll practice one of these intonation templates in this video: the template for the emotion of happiness. The additional nine templates will be available in English Pro, my online accent training community. You can learn every part of the American accent in English Pro - vowels, consonants, intonation, stress, reductions - and you can attend live classes with me every week as part of your subscription. If you’re interested in checking out English Pro and seeing if it’s right for you, the link is in the description below


Before we start practicing, I want to highlight that this video is targeting intonation only. We’re not going to discuss the other important elements of communication, like pronunciation, facial expressions, and vocabulary. Of course these elements play a big part in effective communication - all of them are important - but this video is going to focus only on the intonation element.


How to Learn English Intonation

This is a graphical representation of intonation. One represents the lowest pitch or the lowest note of your voice. Five represents the highest pitch or the highest note of your voice. If you play an instrument or sing, this graph might look similar to a musical staff, where the notes at the bottom of the staff are low, and they get progressively higher as you move up the staff.


When I talk about intonation, I use this graph to help illustrate what the voice is doing. If the voice goes up in pitch, I’ll draw that by doing this:


And if the voice does down in pitch, I’ll draw that by doing this:


And if the voice remains flat - no changes in intonation - I’ll draw that by doing this:


American English Intonation: Happiness

So let’s begin with the first intonation template: happiness. How does one convey the emotion of happiness in terms of intonation?


You use the entire vocal range when conveying happiness, all the way from 1 to 5. The voice has lots of highs and lows throughout the message, and there is a big contrast between the lowest pitch of the voice and the highest pitch. I describe this intonation pattern as curvy or loopy - there are lots of curves up and curves down in the voice. And at the end of the message, the voice typically goes down, so you end with downward intonation.


Let’s try out this intonation template with a sentence: Hi! It’s wonderful to see you!


You can substitute any sentence here - the words don’t matter nearly as much as the intonation. If you want to convey that you feel happy about anything - let’s say you’re happy that it’s raining today - you can plug those words into this intonation pattern, and voila, you’ll sound happy:


It’s such a gloomy, rainy day!


I lost my wallet.


I got a speeding ticket today.


Literally put any words you want into this type of intonation pattern, and people will hear that you’re happy.



American English Intonation: Practice

Now, let’s try it out. First we’ll practice the intonation pattern on the vowel OO. Don’t worry about words right now; just focus on allowing your voice to move up and down with big highs and lows in your pitch. You want to use the entire vocal range here - from one to five - so don’t be afraid of allowing your voice to really move in intonation. That’s what you want - you want your voice to move up and down your pitch range.


Then we’ll practice the same intonation pattern using different sentences. Don’t focus too much on the pronunciation of the words; just focus on allowing your voice to move up and down with big highs and lows in your pitch.


I’m really happy you’re here.

My flight has been delayed by ten hours.

I stepped in a giant puddle of mud, and my shoes are ruined.


Alright, so there’s your first intonation template, the template to convey happiness. I hope you’ll be able to use this template today, to help you identify the emotion that a speaker is trying to convey, and to help you convey the correct emotion when you speak American English.


And don’t forget to check out English Pro if you want to learn intonation templates for nine additional emotions in American English, including:











 Learn more about English Pro™ here:


Thanks so much for watching, and have a great day!

Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent

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