IELTS: Intonation, stress, let me feel the emotion (Volume 1)

16th November 2020

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for my Asian students is copying the speech patterns of English, how our voices rise and fall, how we pause for effect then stress key words, augmented by body language and facial expressions.

Best way to improve is to copy so, without further ado, some classic film lines.

Let’s dive in !

First up, ‘The Italian Job’, a British film from 1969 starring Michael Caine, who is still working today, an actor from south London:

“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off !”

Now, let’s cross the pond (the Atlantic Ocean) and go Stateside, with Tom Cruise being yelled at (shouted at) by Jack Nicholson who you may remember from a previous video. The clip is from ‘A Few Good Men,’ a 1992 drama:

This can be for two students or teams: Start at 0:13 – 0:19

“You want answers,”

“I want the truth,”

“You can’t handle the truth !”

Movin’ on, most of most students are teenagers … this one’s for them. Emely Martinez and some informal, vernacular:

Watch from the beginning

“Oh my gosh, I think I’ve just come up with the best theory … teenage life sucks !”

Now for a personal favourite, the inimitable Peter O’Toole an actor I had the pleasure of seeing, and briefly meeting, back in my London days. Here, Peter is on a talk show, explaining about a long, arduous flight from Japan to the USA:

I heartily recommend watching the whole clip, however our section starts at 2:21

“Coming from Japan, one indeed stops at lots of places … Hawaii and all over … and it coincided, our stopping, with the cocktail hour … everywhere we went, it was cocktail hour … and one doesn’t want to be discourteous …”

Finally, my favourite TV chef (after Keith Floyd, obviously) is the beautiful Ching-He Huang

My Day on a Plate: Ching He-Huang

Here’s an assortment of phrases and lines from one of her numerous YouTube clips:

The whole clip is under two minutes. Here are some selections, in order of appearance.

“From street food to fine dining, Hong Kong is the place that has some of the best food on the planet. Every time I come my absolute favourite thing to do is eat.”

“So this is the pineapple bun, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for, it’s flakey and it’s sweet … it’s really good.”

“It’s small and punchy … just like you !”

“The sweetness of the prawns … eeerrrrrrrr !”

“This is some serious woking !”

The last phrase shows how we can play with English; a wok is a traditional Chinese frying pan. Here, Ching uses the noun (wok) to form a verb (woking), which is non-standard, in fact, it isn’t in any of the online dictionaries I searched. Having said that, most native-English speakers watching the show will know what she means.

If you are unsure, Ching is saying that the restaurant is extremely busy, there is a lot of high-energy cooking going on (woks are associated with high-temperature, very quick dishes).

Ching-He Huang recipes - BBC Food

IELTS Speaking: intonation and stress

31st August 2020

Asian University Life Concept. Group Arkivvideomateriale (100 %  royaltyfritt) 32097208 | Shutterstock

I cannot overstate how important it is how IELTS students present their answers. Look the examiner in the eye (but do not stare !), use body language … watch interviews to see how native-speakers use their face, hands and body in everyday conversation.

Try saying the following sentences with the appropriate intonation and stress.

Intonation is how we raise or lower the pitch of our voices to express meaning for example with positive adjectives, our voices become higher, while becoming slower and deeper with negative adjectives.

Stress is how we make some words louder to show they are the important words in the sentence.

Now … practice

Example: Turn off the music – I hate that song !

Listening to 'extreme' music makes you calmer, not angrier, according to  study | Music | The Guardian

Turn off the music – I hate that song !

TIPS: decide if the sentence is positive, neutral or negative.

I love this film. I could watch it a hundred times.

My sister is such a prima donna, always taking selfies !

How much did you pay for that shirt ? Are you crazy ?

I’m not going out in this weather ! It’s raining cats and dogs.

Why are you so tired ?

I’ve been up all night studying for IELTS.

Oh, you’ve been burning the candle at both ends.

What the hell do you call this ?

Lessons Learned from a Bad Grade | Fastweb
An ‘F’ … what the hell do you call this ?

I’m going to work much harder to pass IELTS, I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone.

Wait a minute, wait a minute … hmmmm, this is a damn fine cup of coffee !

How often does my husband clean the house ? Once in a blue moon.

Now … practice stress

How old are you ? (say this as a general question)

How old are you ? (someone is acting childish)

I don’t believe it (you see someone after a long time – happy)

I don’t believe it (something bad happens – angry)


You’ve been gone so long. Where were you ? (sad and worried)

You’ve been gone so long. Where were you ? (angry)

OK, you can play with your phones, but if the manager sees you … (friendly warning)

OK, you can play with your phones, but if the manager sees you … (angry warning)

The film ? Not really my cup of tea but it was OK (quite good)

The film ? Not really my cup of tea but it was OK (just so-so)

Bored People Watching Film in : video stock a tema (100% royalty free)  1014817775 | Shutterstock
The film was OK