I is for Intonation

22 02 2015

For someone who has never enjoyed – nor succeeded at – teaching intonation, I was gratified to find that John Wells shares my scepticism. In his latest book, Sounds Interesting: Observations on English and general phonetics (Wells 2014) he writes:

Most learners of English as an additional language… are not taught intonation and do not study intonation. Yet they do not speak English on a monotone. A few may be gifted mimics who succeed in imitating intonation along with everything else in the phonetics of the target language. For most, though, their intonation patterns are presumably those of their first language, transferred to English.

The same applies to English learners of foreign languages.

On the whole, even though this may make the speaker sound strange, typical of their origin, boring or annoying, it seems not to cause much of an actual breakdown in communication. How can this be?

It must be because the principles of intonation in language are sufficiently universal for us to be able to rely on them even in a foreign-language situation.

Wells Sounds InterestingWells (who, I hope I don’t have to remind you, is probably Britain’s foremost phonetician) goes on to look at the different functions of intonation in terms of their universality. The three systems in which intonation is implicated are: 1. the tonality system, i.e. the chunking of speech into meaningful units; 2. the tonicity system, i.e. the assigning of nuclear stress within these units; and 3. the tone system, i.e. the use of changes in pitch to convey certain kinds of meaning, such as assertion vs non-assertion, completion vs non-completion, high involvement vs low involvement.

Of the three, he argues that tonality and the meaningful use of tones seem both to be linguistic universals. Tonicity, on the other hand, does not. Whereas in English we would ask

Do you want your coffee WITH milk or withOUT milk?

in Spanish this would more likely be:

¿Quiere el café con LECHe or sin LECHe?

Given the way that nuclear stress plays an important role in flagging new information in discourse, this would seem to be something worth teaching, if not for production, at least for recognition.

human_body faceA quick scan of a number of current coursebooks suggests that it is an area that does indeed get fairly regular – if not detailed – treatment. But so too do the other, supposedly universal, features of intonation, such as the use of a wide pitch span, or high key, to signal politeness. Or the different intonation contours of wh- and yes/no questions. Or the use of falling intonation to signal the end of a list. And so on.

Are we wasting our students’ time? If their goal is to be communicatively effective in international contexts, probably yes. In making her case for a lingua franca phonological core, Jennifer Jenkins (2000, p. 153) argues:

Even if it were possible to teach pitch in the classroom, I do not believe that the use of “native speaker” pitch movements matters very much for intelligibility in interactions among [non-native speakers]. This feature of the intonation system seldom leads to communication problems in the [interlanguage talk] data …

But, anticipating Wells, she goes on to argue:

Nuclear stress, however is a completely different story [and] it is crucial for intelligibility in interlanguage talk (ibid.).

With regard to the redundancy of teaching the rest of the systems, Wells (who happens to be a fluent speaker of Esperanto) nails his case thus:

These points about intonation in EFL applied equally to intonation in Esperanto: somehow speakers manage to understand one another in the language very well despite the lack of any agreed, taught or described intonation system.

References:

Jenkins, J. 2000. The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wells, J.C. 2014. Sounds Interesting: Observations on English and general phonetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(This post started life as a thread on the Facebook site of the ELT Writers Connected group.)


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48 responses

22 02 2015
Anastasiya Tuzova

Nice to see your post again. And thank you for the I, it is one of my favourite research topics.

22 02 2015
Noam David Wright

Great to start reading this blog again, Scott. Very interesting post.

Personally, for my students I will occasionally refer them to contrastive stress (not least with question tags etc), but mostly I am trying to help them get their heads around all the common place contractions (‘eating’ phonemes) and the main ways we connect words (closed to open sounds etc).

22 02 2015
mary spratt

Very good to see this blog back, Scott-makes a difference to Sundays.

22 02 2015
Anthony Ash

A colleague of mine, Olga Samsonova, wrote about the success she had with stress patterns and with pronunciation in general after getting her students to start chunking: https://olgateacher.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/40/

I’ve been giving this a try in class and the effect it has is amazing. What I particularly noticed about it is that chunking sentences is easy for the learners but it helps them – I don’t know how or why – to identify the main stress and produce it🙂

22 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Anthony. Re chunking, one of the most effective ways of helping learners understand a text is to hear it read aloud – preferably by the teacher – so that the tone groups ‘reveal’ the thought groups.

22 02 2015
Cindy Hauert

This reminds me of when I took a Shakespeare couse way back when. Just reading the text was hard going, but when I listened to tapes (that’s all we had back then…) the meaning suddenly popped out. I read the text at the same time.
I realise now that it was the intonation and chunking that made the difference.

22 02 2015
Ayat Tawel

It’s great to start reading your inspiring posts again, Scott.
I agree we don’t give enough time to intonation inside the classroom as we’d rather focus more on stress which might cause misunderstanding and communication problems. Maybe as you mentioned that it’s a universal skill of speech in general, which students get by practicing the language more and dealing with it as a means of communication that is similar to their native language.
Sometimes when I plan to teach intonation, students don’t really get the concept of falling or rising intonation though they could say the sentences or questions with the right intonation. I think that’s because they deal with intonation as how they want to deliver their message rather than what’s the right or wrong intonation esp. that one sentence can be said in more than one intonation depending on the speaker’s intention !!

22 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Ayat.

It’s not just students who ‘don’t get the concept of falling or rising intonation’ – in my experience most teachers can’t distinguish between the tones either. A case of the blind leading the blind – or the deaf leading the deaf?

28 02 2015
Olga

Thank God!!!! someone has made me not feel guilty over this!

22 02 2015
antoniaclare

And Sundays feel like Sundays again😉

Interestingly, as a coursebook writer, I often find I’m battling against the powers that be when I suggest that the pronunciation in this lesson is stress again. Stress and more stress. They would rather see more variety of focus, a broader syllabus, intonation patterns, individual sounds, pitch etc.

Great post, and nice to hear of its origins. Thank you.

22 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Antonia. Yes, there’s a tension between wanting to provide a pronunciation syllabus that is suitably varied, and one that targets what is useful, teachable and achievable. I.e. stress and more stress.😉

22 02 2015
anthonyteacher

I gave my advanced students a read aloud task and was shocked to find that they just blew through punctuation: commas, quotes, periods. The famous example is:

The student said the teacher is lazy.
“The student,” said the teacher, “is lazy.”

We had a one day intonation focus, and their read aloud skills greatly improved. This transferred to their regular speaking skills. I also teach intonation in terms of sarcasm, as the students I teach need to recognize it.

So, there are some useful applications of intonation teaching. I’d recommend checking out Gilbert’s “Prosody Pyramid,” which offers intonation as the base pronunciation/listening skill because it represents thought groups and manageable longer chunks of language.

22 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Anthony. Yes, any activity that maps tone goups on to thought groups would seem to be helpful, not least for comprehension (see my comment to (the other) Anthony above. However, I’m not sure that getting students to read aloud helps a great deal – apart from proving how bad they are at it. Going back to the example of John Wells, would his intelligibility in Esperanto have been helped if he had practised reading it aloud – as opposed to just speaking it, using his L1-influenced prosody?

22 02 2015
anthonyteacher

Are you saying reading aloud is not a useful tool for building fluency, or are you saying its not useful for prosody?

The reason I used read alouds was just for a classroom game (actually, this one: http://www.anthonyteacher.com/blog/zombie-story-a-simple-activity-for-speaking-listening-pronunciation-and-reading), and it was this game that showed me the problems. I know that reading aloud is not the same as fluency, but I also see how it can help with speaking speed, pronunciation, as well as being something we do often when we read a text or article to a friend, or read a book to children – something I think most learners would like to be able to do.

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Hi Anthony – I’ve always argued that reading aloud (by the learners themselves) has benefits, e.g. by granting them the (momentary) illusion of fluency it might help enhance fluency in the long term, e.g. by raising awareness of elisions, weak forms, etc – always with the proviso that the text being read aloud is fully understood. (Which also reminds me that reading aloud is an excellent test of comprehension).

With regard to its benefits in terms of intonation, I’m not so sure. Whatever theory of intonation you susbscribe to, there’s no denying that it is, in large part, all about the ongoing management of talk, both in the way it ‘packages’ units of meaning, and the way it navigates and to some extent manipulates interaction. In order to engage with these psycho- and socio-linguistic processes the speaker/learner would need to be ‘thinking-while-speaking’ (not speaking someone else’s prefabricated thoughts) and ‘interacting-while-speaking’ – I would have thought. Does reading a text activate these processes? (Not to mention the problem of the lack of match between the sentence-level construction of most scripted dialogue and the clause-and-phrase-level construction of real talk).

To use an analogy with driving (another set of complex cognitive and motor skills that are deployed in real time), you can get a sense of the mechanics of driving by sitting in a simulator, but, to be anything like the ‘real thing’, the simulator has to be unpredictable and interactive – which reading aloud is not (normally).

22 02 2015
Singbetterenglish

Thank you for that post, Scott.

Thinking about anthonyteacher’s comment about students reading aloud took me back to my school days, remembering how we were made to read Shakespeare or Waiting for Godot aloud. And how all the life that we, as native speakers of English, injected into our own everyday words, drained out of the read-aloud dialogue and left it dead and cold. Even though the words, in and of themselves, were full of meaning, the act of reading them aloud, because our teacher told us to, strangled them. We couldn’t judge how to speak them because we didn’t know what we were trying to communicate through them, nor what we wanted them to achieve for us.

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment – it chimes with Cindy’s earlier comment above.

I remember those turgid English lessons at high school where we ground out way through Twelfth Night or MacBeth, line-by-monotonous-line – and how one way to guarantee a cheap laugh was to read the line number at the end of the line:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways 15

etc.

22 02 2015
Alannah Fitzgerald

Very informative, thanks. Good to know I’m not the only one who’s rubbish at teaching intonation. When I think back on those mark the stress and intonation exercises I did with students – in the 1990s when they were very in vogue – encouraging them to mark texts as I read out loud, arbitrarily and almost differently with each class, I think what a mess! Somewhat reassured to know I have a valid reason for avoiding doing these now…

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Alannah. David Brazil, who made a lifetime study of intonation, described it as a ‘notoriously slippery phenomenon’(1995, p. 240). I wish my early trainers had admitted as much! Instead, like you, I set out to teach it, equipped with a battery of very dodgy ‘rules’, reinforced by the conviction that my students’ monotone delivery of classroom drills was indicative of their failure to internalize these rules. Only later did I start to realise that, if students sound bored, it’s because they ARE bored – or, at least, that their monotonous delivery is a by-product of their concentrating on features of language production other than its ‘music’ (like getting the right words in the right order). Speaking English outside the classroom, they came to life.

23 02 2015
Scott C

Is there a known link between an individual’s intonation in their L1 and L2? I wonder if the flat and boring sounding students in English are flat and boring in their L1.

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

I don’t know, Scott, but I went to a talk recently where the researcher showed that the best predictor of a speaker’s fluency in their L2 (with regard to performance features like hesitation, rate of delivery etc) was their fluency in their L1. So I’m wondering if the same might be said for intonation.

23 02 2015
Scott C

Hi all,

Interesting points. I wonder about the value of reading aloud. I rarely do it in class but then I read Italian stories to my kids and feel it’s useful for me to get my tongue around different sounds, etc in Italian. Maybe I just feel it’s a little boring in “student-centred” ESL class. Maybe we’re afraid of looking old-fashioned.

To the point at hand. To me sounds require modelling regarding place and manner of articulation, but can the same be said of intonation? Is there an argument for students picking it up through exposure to the language? Does this even happen or do we just not notice their intonation errors as the subject/verb agreement errors that advanced students still make stand out more?

Scott C.

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Scott. You ask “Is there an argument for students picking it up through exposure to the language?”

My inclination is: yes – intonation is experienced, not learned. Moreover, it is embodied – i.e. it is a physical capacity and is inextricably linked with other forms of non-verbal communication, such as gesture (in fact, the units of gesture and of intonation tend to correspond). It may be that embodied features of language are best acquired through embodied (i.e. whole person) interaction.

Roach (1991) would seem to agree: ‘The attitudinal use of intonation [in English] is best acquired by talking with and listening to English speakers’.

(Although this assumes that there is a system of intonation that is perculiarly ‘English’ – an assumption that Wells, for one, would dispute).

23 02 2015
Scott C

Is there a system of intonation that is peculiarly ‘English’? Yes! We’ve simplified it in Australia by rising at the end of every sentence🙂

24 02 2015
Anthony Ash

There’s a reason for that rising intonation: it shows you haven’t finished speaking. If you try to listen a friend or yourself when you’re speaking naturally, you should find when you’ve finished your turn your intonation drops in the final part of the utterance. This is to indicate that you’re done and the other person can speak. It’s hard to listen out for it in yourself but you might hear it when talking with a friend.

24 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Yes, a rising tone on statements, called ‘uptalk’ or, technically, a high rising terminal (HRT) is widespread in a number of varieties of English (not just Australian and NZ – it was allegedly noted in Britain in the middle of the last century) and would seem to defy the received wisdom on intonation (statements fall; yes/no questions rise etc). I think, though, there is more to it than just incompletion. Because it was first noted among women speakers, it was originally attributed to lack of assertion: ‘I’m saying this like a question because, being a woman, I’m not sure I’m right’. On the other hand, a discourse view of intonation (such as Brazil’s or Halliday’s) re-cast it as a referring tone: ‘I’m saying this in such a way that assumes you already know what I’m talking about’ – which, in turn, may be motivated by the desire or need to avoid a threat to the addressee’s face. It seems to me that there is a common thread here: the rising tone is associated with a cluster of meanings that include non-completion, non-assertion and reference to shared knowledge. Falling tones, on the other hand, suggest completion, assertion and proclaiming.

Something worth teaching? Not really: it seems that these are linguistic universals.

25 02 2015
Scott C

There’s a short article about it here…http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28708526

Who’d have thought Frank Zappa would have been so into linguistics!

25 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Scott! Thinking about this since I last posted, I wonder if uptalk could be labelled – not just as a referring tone – but as a deferring tone?

Actually, what excites me more than uptalk is the pragmatic use of statement forms with falling intonation as questions. It was in a talk of David Brazil’s that I was first made aware of this.

A. What shall we cook for your cousin?
B. Tofu burgers, maybe.
A. He’s vegan.↘
B. Yes, afraid so.

25 02 2015
Scott C

Interesting point. Sounds as though speaker A would really prefer the answer to be ‘no!’ There really is so much more to it than it seems.

26 02 2015
timothyhampson

‘The attitudinal use of intonation [in English] is best acquired by talking with and listening to English speakers’.

From personal experience I’d agree with this statement. But I’d also add that it’s important to make sure students know what they should be looking for before the exposure. I had some middle school students who had done years of listening exercises but hadn’t picked up much in terms of intonation. We spent a few hours learning about what kind of intonational features English could have, without looking too much at when each one is used. Their intonation didn’t immediately improve but they started to pick it up much faster in their normal listening classes after that.

Tangentially, I had a bit of push back when I was teaching this because Seoul dialect Korean doesn’t have much pitch variation except for for questions. Seoul is also considered (at least by people in Seoul!) to be the best accent. My students were worried that they’d sound like they were from Busan. Difficult times!

26 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Timothy – yes, that’s a good point, i.e. the students’ perceptions of what it might mean in terms of assuming a different identity through intonation (or any other prosodic feature) – which suggests that maybe they should be consulted before a speaking style is ‘thrust’ upon them.

23 02 2015
jane purrier

My pupils are all under ten and have no other exposure to spoken English than my voice. They are still the natural mimics you refer to and it really only requires a slight emphasis on my part when modeling a sentence to ensure they have the correct intonation (or at least the same as mine..). With older, but still young, learners I have found exaggeration and accompanying gestures when modeling sentences and even single words are excellent tools. One looks and sounds a bit ridiculous but it works. I don’t see how you can meaningfully model sounds without intonation as Scott C. suggests.
So glad you’re back on the blog.

23 02 2015
Scott C

I totally agree there, Jane, that students will pick up on many features of your pronunciation and copy you without explicit highlighting. Just watch a CELTA trainee model and drill a sentence 3 times, each with a different speed, stress and intonation and the students copy it all without missing a beat!

23 02 2015
Anne

What a wonderful surprise to receive this email and a great subject. We have missed your interesting points.
One of my students is from India and he finds intonation really difficult. When he remembers he is better but then speaks very flatly and quickly so you cannot understand what he says. How can I break this??

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Hi Anne – thanks for your comment. I suspect that the cause of the intelligibility problems of your Indian student may be less to do with intonation than with rhythm. Speaking ‘flatly and quickly’ is the impression that is typically given by speakers whose first language is syllable-timed (as opposed to stress-timed languages like the more prestigious varieties of English). Giving each syllable roughly equal length can have the effect of obscuring the distinction between stressed and unstressed syllables. Having said that, I’m not sure that there’s a ‘quick fix’ for rhythm problems, either.

This just serves to remind us of the ‘conundrum’ that Dalton & Seidlhofer (1994) identify, i.e. that suprasegmental features of pronunciation (such as rhythm and prominence) are crucial for intelligibility, but are ‘particularly difficult to teach’, while segmental features (such as the individual phonemes) are relatively easy to each but have only a minor impact on intelligibility: ‘There thus seems to be an inverse relationship between communicative importance and teachability’ (p. 73).

Let’s call the whole thing off!

23 02 2015
Mike Harrison

I have to echo everyone else that it’s great to have your blog back, Scott.

As for the topic of intonation, pronunciation and stress, I’m wondering whether the biggest factor of success in an L2 is whether it matches the L1 as a stress-timed or syllable-timed language. Not exclusively – all learners are different of course.

Another thing I’m becoming more conscious of as I do more and more recording for radio programmes is maybe, before worrying about intonation, we should first focus on simply breathing? After all, you need enough breath to get through whatever you’re going to say, even before thinking about intonation.

23 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Hi Mike – while I was crafting my comment to Anne (above) you sneaked in from behind and mentioned the stress-timed vs syllable-timed thing! I am compelled to agree with you!

It may be worth mentioning the fact that the number of English speakers who use a syllable-timed rhythm (i.e. speakers of most if not all African and South Asian varieties of English) will one day exceed those who use a stress-timed rhythm (if they don’t already), so it’s just a question of time.

Interesting point about breath control – although I think this might be more relevant to reading aloud rather than to spontaneous talk.

24 02 2015
Charles Rei

There is so much to agree with here. I see a few mentions of helping learners understand (and speak) a stress-timed language. Yes… both my Chinese and German learners say that learning reduction was a huge help for improving listening comprehension, even if I do not force them to use chunking (only schwa) in speech. For me, teaching reduction results in understanding stress patterns – in other words, I don’t teach stress patterns expressly because they naturally emerge if they understand reduction (especially of functional words).

A big thank you for providing some research to my observation that teaching intonation is not a high priority. I can see how intonation could possibly affect understanding, but I agree with Jenkins that it rarely does. There are certainly bigger problems. Perhaps it matters when reading aloud (as one mentioned) but how often does reading aloud actually occur in the real-world? I found it embarrassing in school (L1 school) and I don’t ask my learners to do it.

24 02 2015
Anthony Ash

I’ve read posts by others who don’t teach reduction but teach chunking and the reduction comes naturally. I wonder if there’s some sort of balance and you have to deal with one or the other and the rest takes care of itself🙂

24 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Charles – yes, the case for sensitizing learners to the reductions and simplifications of connected speech so as to be able to segment the stream of speech into words as a LISTENING skill would seem to be fairly conclusive – especially for ESL and EFL learners. Field (2005) suggests ‘One might expose listeners to short stretches of authentic speech a little above their language level, then show them how they can decode the recording into words by identifying and transcribing the stressed syllables within it’. This seems to be the approach that Richard Cauldwell adopts in his ‘Cool Speech’ materials.

25 02 2015
Edouard Creemers

Dear Scott,

I have learnt from this entry that intonation actually exists of three different functions and that lack of proper intonation does not lead to a breakdown in the communication.

That makes we wonder why my students complain so much about not being heard or understood, besides having a B1 level; I always believed intonation was the key.

What I tell them that if you only provide the listener with words, they tend to fill the meaning in themselves, which is a big uncertain factor and makes the meaning dependent on the listener, their mood, their impression about you and so on.

I focus a lot on intonation during my lessons as many of my students, often directors complain nobody pays much attention to what they have to say in international conference calls.

The problem is that they sound flat, so the message that you usually get by the intonation functions is not sent out.

What I do is, I have them read a paragraph related to a topic related to their field of work. They just have to read it, without any additional instruction. Then, I read the text making use of chunks, without making too much use of the tone system yet. They have to tell me where the chunks (tonality systems) are.

I explain to them that those chunks are words and verbs that form meaning, in case you make a pause at a different word or verb, the meaning gets either lost or changed.

They are asked to read the text once more and make use of the tonality systems they just indicated; with the result as you mentioned in one of your responses – they tend to make a quite accurate attempt at the correct tonicity and naturally on the tone system.

However, I feel that the latter is not used accurately, possibly due to the fact they tend to focus mostly on the tonality at that point. The level of tonicity in combination with the tone system strengthens or weakens the emphasis of your statement.

So, in real life if they make use of the correct systems, the chance is that their ideas and or comments are taken more seriously as they are better understood; there is also a dominancy factor that comes along.

I look forward to reading your comments on my approach and vision and if it is correct what I wrote here.

Best regards,

Edouard

26 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Edouard, for your comment and your account of your teaching approach.

One thing that has become clear in this discussion is that the skills of speaking fluently (as in spontaneous conversation) and of reading aloud intelligibly (as in giving conference presentations, for example) do not always coincide, and it’s not clear (to me at least) as to how practice in one area might help in the other. That is to say, does the intelligibility and fluency that is acquired by the reading aloud of marked up texts (e.g. where tone groups, nuclear stresses, weak forms etc have been identified) transfer to spontaneous interactive talk? And does the experience of spontaneous interactive talk benefit the more formal delivery of conference presentations? I suspect not: I have seen very many conference presentations that have been numbingly flat and monotone, delivered by speakers who, in small talk in the bar, are lively and animated. (Although, I have to say, the reverse is less common, i.e. speakers who are monotonous conversationalists but live wires when it comes to giving their talk!).

It seems to me that, if your students want to create an engaging impression in the kinds of contexts you mention, they will need to work on more than their intonation. Research into what is called ‘perceived fluency’ – i.e. the impression of fluency that a speaker gives – suggests that there are a number of factors involved, including absence of undue pausing, accent, accuracy, pragmatic competence, even body language. And, as I said before, I suspect that, with regard to prosody, rhythm may be more critical than intonation.

26 02 2015
timothyhampson

I saw a really interesting talk by Dan Evans at the last KOTESOL international conference about teaching intonation. He seemed to be doing some interesting things. Asking his pupils to learn dialogues from movies/TV shows and then practice copying the intonations looked really fun and useful. They finished by overdubbing their voices onto the original recordings, which must have been a very rewarding end product too.

I wrote a blog post about the talk. it’s one of my earliest posts, so I’m not sure that the write up was good. The talk was very good though, so it might be worth a read.

http://tjhampson.com/2014/10/20/kotesol-double-presentation-special-mahboob-and-evans/

26 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the link to your blog, Timothy. Unfortunately I missed Dan Evans’ presentation when I was at KOTESOL last year – and it seems that there is a lot that I would agree with – i.e. that you need to work on the ‘bigger picture’, with regard to pronunciation, than on the itty-bitty bits. However, as I said to Eduard above, I’m not entirely convinced that marking up scripts and reading them aloud is likely to impact positively on the intonation of spontaneous talk – but I’m prepared to be proved wrong!

28 02 2015
Scott C

To comment on both of Timothy’s last posts, I can imagine that students wouldn’t pick up intonation from typical listening exercises we’re all familiar with. I know many Korean students fall into the intermediate or below level (where I am with Italian) and when I’m listening in Italian I put most of my energy into just comprehending the words as they come out and then trying to process the grammar if I’m lucky. So I’d agree that you have to raise students’ awareness of it first. However, doing “controlled” intonation activities like the one mentioned (with dubbing over TV/films) may have the benefit of allowing students to see how the speaker is feeling through facial expressions, body language, gestures, etc…and translate those feelings into their intonation. I would assume that there’s a link between intonation and body language. Am I wrong?

28 02 2015
Scott Thornbury

” I would assume that there’s a link between intonation and body language. Am I wrong?” No, you’re absolutely right:

‘The distribution of gestural units in the stream of speech is similar to the distribution of intonational units, in the following ways:

(1) Gestural domains are isomorphic with intonational domains. The speaker’s hands rise into space with the beginning of the intonational rise at the beginning of an utterance, and hands fall at the end of the utterance along with the final intonational marking.

(2) The most effortful part of the gesture (‘stroke’) co-occurs with the pitch accent, or most effortful part of enunciation…

Cassell, J. 1999. ‘Embodied conversational agents: a new paradigm for the study of gesture and for human-computer interface’ in Messing & Campbell (eds) Gesture, Speech & Sign, Oxford University Press, p.209.

As you can probably tell from the title of the article that this quote comes from, designers of simulated digital environments are very interested in the interrelation between voice and gesture – as also, I assume, are animation artists. Maybe language teachers should be too?

28 02 2015
timothyhampson

I haven’t had the chance to try it out with the films but I am interested in doing so. I did go through students’ presentations with them and helped them write in rises and falls. I thought at the time that there must be SOME way of scaffolding intonation. These types of activities give students the chance to practice using intonation in a controlled environment.

I actually found it quite hard to annotate the presentations myself the first few times. I also saw my students needing less and less help. If figuring out where to intonate is a learned skill, then students could start out learning it on paper. I’d suggest that they’d eventually be able to do it at least while rehearsing speech mentally and be able to incorporate it more and more into their regular speech.

My experience from speaking Korean is that intonation is something I have to rehearse in my head when I’m speaking (at least if I want to be understood) and so knowing how to work out where to innotate is a useful skill even though it doesn’t come naturally yet. I’m not sure, I think it would be a really interesting area to do some research into to find out more.

29 03 2015
hana724

I certainly agree that intonation is important, however when I begun teaching my students to do so, they started to imitate me and my accent. I would rather prefer them to do so in their own way!

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