So what is intonation and why is it so important in effective communication?
An accent doesn't simply consist of the technical accuracy of the various vowels and consonants. It's much more than that. As I'm sure you're aware, each accent has its own distinct rhythm, tune and melody, which proposes this idea of whether there is a right way to pronounce words. We call this intonation.
Often, intonation is taught as an 'add-on' to an Accent course - as if it were an additional vowel sound. Not at London Speech Workshop. We know that good intonation is vital. It's worth more than every vowel and consonant sound put together. And yet, in my opinion, it's often taught extremely badly.
Back when I started teaching (in the dim and distant past!) intonation was traditionally taught in a very confusing way. Whole texts were given to clients with arrows pointing upwards for suggested upward inflection of the voice, and arrows pointing downwards for suggested downwards inflection. The whole thing was mind-numbingly, head-spinningly complex. And it completely missed the point, which is this:
Good intonation is simply good communication.
The task of a good speaker is to do as much of the listener's work for them as you possibly can.
So how do I improve my intonation?
How can I use intonation to express feeling?
The secret to being an engaging speaker
Here at LSW, we have a basic, three step formula for 'doing the work' for your listener.
Step one is emphasis.
This is the idea that when we speak not every word we say is of the same value. Some words are of greater importance to our listener than others. I always say it's a bit like having a highlighter pen in your voice - which highlights all the keywords for your listener. The words that you highlight for the listener tend to be the words that contain information.
Step two is pause.
It's really important to divide up our speech into units of thought - into bite size chunks. We always say this is a bit like feeding a baby. If you were feeding a baby you wouldn't just get a handful of baby food and say 'there's your lunch!' You will spoon feed the baby. That's exactly what you do with your listener. You give them bite size chunks of information, separated by pause.
Step three is what we call 'justifying the pause'.
This is the idea that your voice should never be flat throughout a unit. In order to earn a pause - you have to have some movement in the tune of your voice. It's really useful to imagine reading to a small child. I know from reading to my nephews when they were tiny that you instinctively fight for their attention. A four-year-old has no filter - if they're bored, they just get up and walk away! Consequently, we instinctively start painting pictures with our voices to hold their focus. It's vital, when first softening your accent, to tap into that.