Do you know how many vowel sounds (not vowel letters) there are in your first language?
For example, in Italian, you have got the five vowel letters, but you have seven vowel sounds. Do you know how many there are in English? Yes, you have the five vowel letters again, but you have over twenty vowel sounds!
Trying to connect twenty vowel sounds to seven does not quite work. But once you know this, you can then start differentiating between the sounds. It takes time to hear the differences and then manipulate your own mouth and tongue to the correct position to reproduce the new sounds. You do not need to reproduce the vowel sounds in the same way as a British or American person (in fact there are many differences between the 'standard' accents). However, you do need to be understood whether you are saying 'sit' or 'seat' and 'lack' or 'luck' for example. Being consistent with your sounds (once they are differentiated) is much more important than getting them to sound like a 'native'.
This is because when we are consistent people can quickly accommodate any slight differences they may hear. Once we understand someone, our communication improves and then we are able to make better connections with others.
English is a stress timed language, which means we do not have regular stress patterns in our words or our sentences. We stress the key words in our speech and unstress the words which are not carrying any key meaning. This leads to an interesting phenomenon where one phrase, such as 'I'm really happy' could take the same amount of time to say as 'I'm actually really happy today'!
A more common example is counting - like a conductor in front of an orchestra. They may simply count, '1, 2, 3, 4', or they could say '1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and', they could also add an 'a': '1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a', they could even go as far as: '1 and then a 2 and then a 3 and then a 4 and then a...'. All of these phrases would take the same amount of time to say, because we only stress the numbers, the other words are all unstressed and do not take much time at all, in fact they get quicker the more we add in.
Getting the right stress can really help with our fluency. Once we understand which words are stressed and which words are unstressed, we can build on our fluency. This allows other proficient speakers to understand us better, as they only have to focus on the stressed keywords, rather than every word in the sentence. Once we are able to balance our stress, our pitch, our word length, and the volume of the words that we are saying, we can make our messages much clearer. And once we understand how these work, we can also understand a lot more. This leads to better communication and better connections with those we are speaking to
Intonation, according to the Cambridge online dictionary is the way the voice rises and falls when speaking often having an impact on the meaning of what is being said. You know how sometimes you say something, you know you have said the right words, in the right order with the correct tense, but the other person replies in a way you were not expecting? It could be that your intonation said something else. Often the way we say the words is more important than the words themselves. It is essential for the meaning behind the words themselves to come through as you are speaking.
There are two sides to intonation: inferring and implying – inferring is what you understand from what someone else has said, so if they say “I'm fine thanks” but in a low voice, without much fluctuation in their tone, you are likely to assume that they are not as fine as they said. Implying is how you use your voice to project meaning onto your words, this can be used to show excitement, sarcasm (very common here in the UK) or boredom. I can show all three emotions with my voice, even if I use the same words: “It's been such an exciting day”. (You try!)
Once we can infer more accurately and imply more purposefully, we are more comprehensible.
It is absolutely fascinating to know that, if you are speaking to someone in English and their pitch is changing a lot - so they are going very high and very low within their spoken language with you - this means that they are interested in you or the topic, that they want the conversation to keep going, and they probably like you as a person. Whereas, if their pitch is quite regular, more of a monotone, it likely means that they are bored, they are not so interested, maybe in the topic of conversation, or in the situation that they find themselves in.
This is interesting for you to know when you are listening to someone, but also to be aware of when you are speaking. If you keep your voice quite monotonous, the other person, subconsciously, is going to understand that you are not interested in them or in that conversation. So just be aware of this when you are next talking to someone in English, as you can improve the connections you make, simply by varying your tone.
Of course all of these aspects of pronunciation will take time to implement and you may require some help to insert them into your own English use. The first step is to notice these when you are listening to proficient speakers of English. Once you start using them yourself, you will soon see that your communication and therefore your connections will be enhanced no end.
If you would like more support from me, please get in touch; you can find more details of my current courses here: Pronunciation Courses | Excellence in English Education