Vol. 9, Issue 3, February 2009

Pronunciation Corner
Joyce Mandell

Joyce Mandell

Using Drama Activities to Practice Intonation

So many pronunciation activities focus on segmentals only.  I believe students - from beginners to advanced - really need to work on intonation patterns of American English, as so much meaning is derived from using intonation properly. Many students whose home languages are tone languages (like Chinese) tend to sound very flat when they speak English.  Here’s an exercise that’s fun to use in class, and strengthens the idea that intonation really is linked to meaning and emotion.  I call it “Please-No” – it is a common exercise used in acting classes as a spin-off to a scene.

First, hand out slips of paper with two-liners on them. Some possible ones are-  Please/No, Help me/I can’t, It’s your fault/No it’s not, etc.  Divide class into groups of twos. 

Instruct learners to rehearse their dialogue in front of the class, changing the intonation pattern according to the emotions that arise during the interchange.  Tell them to explore the dialogue all kinds of ways – angrily pleadingly, coyly, sweetly, coldly, lovingly, etc.  Have the pair start off with the dialogue, repeating it several times in different ways.  Then, have them branch off into their own improvisation based on the first two lines.

This is a fun exercise for the entire class – both for the “actors” and the audience.  It clearly shows how changing the intonation for the lines changes the meaning, the intention of the players, and the way they are feeling.

Joyce Mandell has been teaching speech and pronunciation skills to the non-native speaker for over 15 years, working in a variety of educational and business settings.  She is an adjunct at Baruch College in both Continuing and Professional Studies and the Communication Studies Department, where she teaches public speaking.  She also works individually with business professionals.

Feel free to contact her with questions or suggestions at dialogue@nystesol.org.