Intonation and stress are closely linked. In fact it's impossible to dissociate them. They go hand in hand. Intonation is about how we say things, rather than what we say, the way the voice rises and falls when speaking, in other words the music of the language. Just as words have stressed syllables, sentences have regular patterns of stressed words. In addition, the voice tends to rise, fall or remain flat depending on the meaning or feeling we want to convey (surprise, anger, interest, boredom, gratitude, etc.).
Intonation therefore indicates the mood of the speaker. There are two basic patterns of intonation in English: falling intonation and rising intonation. In the following examples a downward arrow (➘) indicates a fall in intonation and an upward arrow (➚) indicates a rise in intonation. Again, these are not rules but patterns generally used by native speakers of English. Just remember that content words are stressed, and intonation adds attitude or emotion. This explanation on intonation is intended to serve as a general guide to help learners.
It should in no way make them unnecessarily anxious! It should be remembered that a written explanation can never be a substitute for a 'live' conversation with a native speaker. Attitudinal intonation is something that is best acquired through talking and listening to English speakers.
(The pitch of the voice falls at the end of the sentence.)
Falling intonation is the most common intonation pattern in English. It is commonly found in statements, commands, wh-questions (information questions), confirmatory question tags and exclamations.
(questions beginning with 'who', 'what', 'why', 'where', 'when', 'which', and 'how')
Not all tag questions are really questions. Some of them merely ask for confirmation or invite agreement, in which case we use a falling tone at the end.
(The pitch of the voice rises at the end of a sentence.)
Rising intonation invites the speaker to continue talking. It is normally used with yes/no questions, and question tags that are real questions.
(Questions that can be answered by 'yes' or 'no'.)
We sometimes use a combination of rising and falling intonation in the same sentence. The combination is called Rise-Fall or Fall-Rise intonation.
(The intonation rises and then falls.)
We use rise-fall intonation for choices, lists, unfinished thoughts and conditional sentences.
Intonation falls on the last item to show that the list is finished.
In the responses to the following questions, the rise-fall intonation indicates reservation.
The speaker hesitates to fully express his/her thoughts.
(The tone rises in the first clause and falls gradually in the second clause.)
(The voice falls and rises usually within one word.)
The main function of fall-rise intonation is to show that the speaker is not certain of the answer they are giving to a question, or is reluctant to reply (as opposed to a falling tone used when there is no hesitation). It is also used in polite requests or suggestions.
A good exercise to improve pronunciation would be to listen to short recordings of everyday dialogues and then 'shadow read' the script, or read it along with the tape using the same stress and intonation as the speaker. Students can repeat this exercise until their voice sounds similar to the voice on the recording.
It is also a good idea to note down or record some examples of everyday conversations (either from real life or from film or television dialogues) and repeat them as often as possible, copying the stress and intonation of the speakers.
Modern English songs are also a useful way of learning English stress, rhythm and intonation. To begin with, try singing (or saying loudly) the lyrics ofsongs that you find easy to understand.
You will be surprised how quickly your pronunciation will improve with the help of audio materials. It will be a reward for all your hard work!