Intonation is the rhythm of speech. Rhythm is based on stress. Because American English pronunciation was standardized in order to to be useful in mass media and global business, we stress words that represent important information. Important information often goes in this order:
2. Verbs (especially near pronouns, which means the nouns are understood)
Of course, there can be many exceptions in different situations. For instance, maybe time is most important to you–you may stress the adverb instead of the noun.
Overall, when practicing pronunciation or preparing to speak publically, choose about two-four words per sentence that are most important to the meaning of what you need to say. Stress those words and then also de-stress the others.
Pause as You Speak
To deliver important information, you need to pause before or after the stressed word. You can often pause before words like “that” and “which,” prepositions (in, on, at, for, around, etc.) and conjunctions (and, but, or) as well. Pausing gives the listener time to fully hear the important words.
What Not to Stress
De-stressing (reducing stress on) the small words helps the stressed words to sound important. You can de-stress by reducing vowel sounds. “To” becomes “t’” as in “t’work.” “And” becomes “‘n” as in “bread ‘n butter.” “For” becomes “fr” as in “fr you.” “Is” attaches as if you are speaking a contraction: for “she is,” say “she’s.” We also can delete “h” when attaching “his/her/has/had” to the previous word. For instance, “lost her job” can read “lost’r job.” Make sure you are pronouncing contractions also.
Practice reading the passage below. Stressed syllables of 2-3 syllable words are in capital letters. Stressed words are in bold print. A slash ( / ) indicates a good place to pause. Of course, you always pause for commas and periods.
|My friend / has a new job. He is WORking / as an IT specialist / for the new bank / that Opened / down the street. He’s exCIted / because he gets to creATE / his own poSItion / since the bank is new. The pay is good too. That’s LUcky / because his wife / recently lost her job. She has been apPLYing / all over town / for the past two months / and HASn’t had any luck. Now she’s going to take one month off, reLAX, and then try again.|
My friend has a new job. He is working as an IT specialist for the new bank that opened down the street. He’s excited because he gets to create his own position since the bank is new. The pay is good too. That’s lucky because his wife recently lost her job. She has been applying all over town for the past two months and hasn’t had any luck. Now she’s going to take one month off, relax, and then try again.