I'm not sure whether this question about spoken English fits here or not, but it's fully about English language & usage:

As a person from Asia, I think I can read and write English decently, but am much worse at spoken English. And I suppose this has a strong relation with the fact that English is featuring in word stress, tone and intonation. None of these factors is emphasized in Asian languages.

For the sake of clearness, I ask the question in this new paragraph: are there some really good and helpful books/tutorials about these? And how can I effectively improve my English in these aspects?

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  • Now that you have clear proof that the selected answer here is wrong, do you think you might unselect it, please, so that other readers don't get misinformed? – Araucaria Aug 12 at 11:09
up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is an excellent question, mostly because the answer is unfortunately that there aren't any.

Linguistics and language instruction (related but distinct things) spend a lot of time and scholarship with pronunciation and grammar. It is universally recognized that there is little research done on sentence prosody, the 'music' over a complete sentence. All you get is maybe a paragraph about how yes/no questions having rising tone, and other questions falling. You certainly get a lot of instruction on word stress but that's it.

There are surely book length linguistic analyses of sentence intonation for many languages but they are comparatively few. As to language instruction, you get a few hints here and there maybe but rarely anything concentrated in say a chapter.

So in a practical manner if you want to improve your intonation, do all the usual language learning things to improve pronunciation:

  • listen to native speakers (youtube is good for this)
  • repeat it back
  • record yourself doing so
  • play that back
  • repeat, fixing what you think is wrong

You may also want to look at and ask at Language Learning.SE where they may have more advice and references.

  • It's an impressive question, but a misleading answer :( There's easily enough stuff around. Importantly there's, well, ... see my post below. – Araucaria Aug 11 at 1:44

I would listen to podcasts, and BBC radio 4.

maybe the world service, but not sure how much of that, is uk content, or locally produced content.

Even watch old television episodes on youtube.

As no book is going to be as good as actually listening to native speakers.

There are many EFL books which have good sections about English prosody. There are fewer which deal specifically only with intonation (which covers both stress and pitch). One of the very best is by Professor John Wells, of UCL, world famous for his groundbreaking and comprehensive work on accents of English, the IPA conventions for the transcription of English, the world-class and gold standard Longman Pronounciation Dictionary, the invention of Lexical Sets, and many other achievements in the fields of phonetics and phonology, especially in the phonetics of English.

This book is:

Do not let the "introduction" part of the title put you off. It's just shy of 300 pages long and very detailed and well-explained. It comes with an audio CD too. It's the most comprehensive guide you'll every find. I've used it with my students, very successfully, for years now.

Fill your boots!

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