What is intonation?

Intonation is a very vague area in spoken English. If you have already read some literature on phonetics and phonology, you must be irritated by all the different definitions and explanations. Do not be confused or irritated. Intonation does not need to be all that hard to understand. You should be able to understand the meaning of intonation once you finish reading this page.

Most teachers use the terms intonation, tone, prosody, melody, pitch, and stress interchangeably. Who can blame them? The truth is that oftentimes some of these areas overlap, and therefore can be looked at, in some ways, as inter-connected. You have to understand that we are not dealing with math or physics, but with a language that can be as unique and different as the individuals using it.

We can make this discussion as complex as we want but that is still not going to help you or help the students improve. We are not doing a PHD on the science of phonetics and phonology. We are simply trying to understand what really matters in pronunciation teaching, how to help your students to eradicate the influence of their native language and plant new speaking habits in English and by doing that improve their ability to speak more accurately, fluently and confidently and of course understand more effortlessly. Therefore, it is imperative that you find a simple yet effective way to instruct them. Your instructions have to make sense. They have to be real, personalized and thus relevant to your students’ linguistic background. That is not an easy task especially when you have a mixture of nationalities in the same classroom.

Okay, so what's the deal with all this insanity? Just take a look at the image below and use it as a guide.

Intonation illustration
Sentence stress & Pitch Height are interconnected.