Analyze2Imitate: Thought Grouping, Phrase Stress, and Intonation

  1. Find a TED Talk (e.g. from Monica’s list of recommended 3-minute TED Talks) or a Newsy report you find interesting.
  2. Select the transcript text with your mouse and click “Ctrl + C” to copy it. Paste your copied text into a Microsoft Word or other document by clicking Ctrl + V.
  3. Watch the TED talk at least twice, inserting “/” where the speaker makes a short pause and inserting “//” where the speaker makes a long pause.
  4. Highlight the last “important word” of each pause unit (usually a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb), since this is the default position for phrase stress in English.
  5. Listen to the talk one more time to check whether the speaker actually stresses in each pause unit the word(s) you highlighted. Change your highlighting as necessary to match the speaker’s actual phrase stress. (FYI: English speakers tend to add phrase stress to a word by making whichever of its vowels receives the word stress longer.)
  6. If the speaker stresses a word in order to contrast it with another word, highlight in a different color the specific syllable he/she actually stresses (It’s important to highlight the exact syllable the speaker stresses and not just the word since contrast stress can not only change the word that gets stressed, but also which syllable in that word gets stressed). For example, Eric Berlow in his TED talk, “Simplifying Complexity,” consistently shifts his word stress for the word “complicated” to contrast it with the word “complex“:

So / I hope to convince you that complex / doesn’t always equal complicated. // So for me /, a well-crafted baguette, fresh out of the oven /, is complex /, but a / curry / onion / green olive / poppy cheese bread is complicated” (Eric Berlow: “Simplifying Complexity,” TED).

  1. Read the transcript again, underlining each pause unit you think the speaker will mark with a rising tone vs. the default falling tone or other tones sometimes used in English.
  2. Listen again to the talk to check/correct your predictions.

“I also figured out / that / if you really want something badly enough, / you can do anything / for 30 days. // Have you ever wanted to write a novel? // Every November, / tens of thousands of people / try to write their own fifty thousand word novel / from scratch / in 30 days. // It turns out, / all you have to do / is write sixteen hundred and sixty-seven words a day / for a month. // So I did. // By the way, the secret / is not to go to sleep / until you’ve written your words for the day. // You might be sleep-deprived, / but / you’ll finish your novel. // Now / is my book / the next great American novel? // No. / I wrote it in a month. / It’s awful. / But / for the rest of my life, / if I meet John Hodgman at a TED party, / I don’t have to say, / “I’m a / computer scientist.” / No, no, / if I want to, I can say, / ‘I’m a novelist.’ /” (Matt Cutts: “Try something new for 30 days,” TED).

  1. Record yourself giving the talk (perhaps using a tool like Pay attention to pausing only where you marked either “/” or “//”, to lengthening the stressed vowels in each of your highlighted words, and to using rising intonation with every pause unit you underlined.
  2. Check your recording. Did you pause only where you marked “/” or “//”? Did you lengthen the stressed vowels of all your highlighted words? Did you use rising intonation for all of your underlined pause units? Mark in bold any pause units in which you made a pausing, phrase stress, or intonation mistake.
  3. Rerecord the talk, paying particular attention to the stress and intonation of the words and phrases you marked in bold.


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