Improve Your Intonation

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Richard Burton

Gareth Bale may be the most famous Welshman in the world right now. His football skills are undeniable and Wales is rightly proud of him. In general, however, the Welsh have been known for their oratory, their persuasive speaking, together with literary and musical skills. It’s no accident that teachers have been one of the country’s greatest exports.

Perhaps you think of Damian Lewis as an American actor. In fact, he was accent coached to play his award-winning role in the TV series Homeland. Like him, you can learn to change your intonation and pronunciation when speaking English.

Native speakers find it difficult to understand a foreigner who places stress on the wrong part, or element, of a sentence. This use of emphasis is one of the most important things you can learn if you want people to be certain of your meaning and to have respect for the standard of your spoken English. Misunderstanding is an obvious problem, but so is the loss of goodwill when a client’s patience runs out during a meeting because they just aren’t sure what you’re trying to say.

Damian Lewis comes from a long tradition of Welsh actors who have demonstrated a superb command of the English language, and continue to do so.

That assurance, the ability to play with the poetry in words, gave Wales orators and writers such as Bertrand Russell, Aneurin Bevan, David Lloyd George and Dylan Thomas.

Putting words to music comes naturally in Wales. After all, we hear music in words. From Ivor Novello to Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, from Charlotte Church and Duffy to Bryn Terfel, there’s something for all tastes. Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia and the Manic Street Preachers, all share a love of the human voice and the magic it can create.

If you listen to songs in English you will detect the natural intonation of spoken English hiding in the vocals. The more you hear this, the easier it will be to understand other speakers. When you start singing along, you’ll find you are increasing your active vocabulary and ability to express yourself, as well as improving your own intonation.

Use audiobooks and the Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos series in the same way. Listen, enjoy, mimic, speak in the rhythm you hear, try to keep up with the performer’s pace. Stop and record yourself if you want to, but above all, use your ears and your body will respond naturally, helping you with voice production. Lungs, vocal cords, teeth, tongue, lips, they all play a part in getting the melody of the language right.

If you would like to bring out the poetry in your English, or you simply want to increase your confidence, I provide individual speech coaching and accent correction by Skype.

Intensive one-to-one courses are available in Wales where I work on intonation, communication and any other training you need.

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