Overall Phrase Stress & Intonation Comments

  • Your phrase stress and intonation usually follow English norms. (Multiple raters mentioned this was a major factor in making your speech generally easy to understand in spite of other errors) ☺
  • One rater expressed concern about your stress, but didn’t specify whether his/her concern was word stress or phrase stress ☹

Phrase Stress

English speakers focus listeners’ attention on whichever words they count most important for successful communication of their ideas by adjusting these key words’ pronunciation in several ways. Most importantly, English speakers put focus on these key words by (1) lengthening the stressed vowel of key words in their message1 and (2) pronouncing these key words (particularly their stressed syllable) at a higher or lower pitch than other less meaningful words in their message.

If speakers do not apply the standard English pronunciation adjustments to help their listeners identify which words are most important, both nonnative and native English listeners will identify the message’s key points (usually via grammar) more slowly — and will thus often complain speakers are “talking too fast!” Additionally, particularly if speakers are giving an extended presentation of complex content that is unfamiliar to their audience (as is common in conferences and classes), listeners quickly become tired trying to identify key content in the absence of the standard pronunciation cues marking focus in English. As a result, they begin having trouble (1) identifying the key points (and thus the main message) of the presentation at all and (2) remembering the key points (and thus the main message) of the presentation (even if they originally did understand it!)


Stressed vowels in English are usually pronounced longer than unstressed vowels. However, when stressed vowels are located within words speakers count as key to their message, these key words’ already-long stressed vowels become even longer.

Default Phrase Stress

  • You tend not to put focus on new information (usually the last word of a phrase) by lengthening its stressed syllable. This can make it hard for listeners to follow your logic.
  • You tend not to lengthen the last word in your thought groups, making it difficult for listeners to recognize where the boundaries of your thought groups are.

Contrast/Emphasis Stress

  • Great job using contrast stress between “REgular for loop” and “enHANCED for loop” ☺
  • FYI: The word “exhales” very frequently takes contrast stress, and therefore is pronounced as “EXhales,” not “exHALES,” in order to show it is the opposite of the word “inhales”
  • In the phrase “Listing 2,” “2” needs to get contrast stress to differentiate it from “Listing 1,” “Listing 3,” etc.
    • Use Anki to build new habits of using appropriate contrast stress when talking about opposites or other “sets” of words by creating 2 or 3 brief talks each Anki-scheduled review day that compare/contrast each member of the pair or set to the other(s) (checking afterward that you have fluently applied the appropriate contrast stress).
    • Analyze2Imitate: Thought Grouping, Phrase Stress, and Intonation

“True Adjective + Noun” Stress

  • Unless the term “numeric test” is commonly used in your field in contrast to another kind of test, it should be pronounced with “true adjective + noun” stress rather than contrast stress. If you’re not sure, please check with a colleague whose English pronunciation you trust, because only someone in your field can verify for sure which type of phrase stress is normally used with this phrase. (Your colleagues almost certainly won’t know the terms “contrast stress” or “‘true adjective + noun’ stress,” so they probably won’t be able to directly tell you which kind of stress you should use. However, if you pay close attention to how they stress the phrase “numeric test,” you should be able to figure out by yourself the type of phrase stress they’re using!)



  • You do an excellent job of using the rise and fall of your voice to make your lesson sound interesting ☺
  • After the first minute or so, your control of the rise and fall of your voice helped a lot in helping your students follow the logic of your talk and in making your teaching and topic sound interesting ☺
  • I just want to say I agree with you rather than your classmate that your intonation (rising vs. falling pitch) was basically perfectly appropriate for English  — I don’t think you need to work on this ☺
  • Your lesson today was VERY interesting!!! (because of your very appropriate use of the rise and fall of your voice, gestures, visuals, examples, etc.☺)


  • Your intonation doesn’t quite match American English norms which can make it difficult for listeners in the American context to understand you
  • Here your sentence should follow the default statement intonation of English (i.e. a pitch that falls from the beginning of the phrase to the end of the phrase.)

Inappropriate “Unfinished” and “‘Yes/No” Question Rising Intonation

  • You tend nearly always to end phrases using rising intonation (rising pitch). This is a problem because rising intonation signals in standard North American, British, and Australian English that the speaker hasn’t yet finished communicating his/her idea (or that they’re asking a “yes/no” question). Falling intonation, in contrast, signals to English-speaking listeners that a speaker has finished communicating a point, so the listener can now draw a conclusion regarding what that point was. As a result, native English-speaking brains tend to add any phrase ending in rising intonation to their “currently processing queue” and to wait to complete processing of that phrase until another falling intonation signals that the speaker has completed his/her point. Continuous rising intonations, therefore, cause the average English-speaking listener brain to end up holding A LOT in queue, with the result that the listener gets tired (and therefore frustrated!) quickly. In addition, English-speaking listeners’ failure to complete processing of each of your points as you make them (because they don’t realize when you’ve finished each point) hurts their ability to follow the logic/chronology of what you’re saying — Make sense?

Inappropriate Statement and “Wh-” Question Falling Intonation

Monotone “Intonation”

  • Your intonation was a little flat, i.e. your voice didn’t rise or fall quite enough, which can make listeners feel your talk is boring (mentioned by multiple raters)
  • Your intonation was a little flat, i.e. your voice didn’t rise or fall quite enough, making your talk sound a little boring. You can work on developing an English-appropriate range of intonation by identifying and shadowing TED talks you find interesting

Nonstandard Intonation

  • One rater commented that you had “some musical tones in [your] vowel sounds” and “some musical tones in your] phrases.” Maybe this is because you’re transferring some of your Vietnamese tones into English? One rater also described your speech as “somewhat sing-song.”


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