Sunday, September 21, 2014

Was that a choice or a yes/no question?

Sometimes students have great difficulty understanding the importance of intonation when speaking. When a question has an "or" in the middle of it between two nouns, is the speaker asking you to choose between the two nouns, or is the speaker simply asking a yes/no question?

By changing the intonation of these two questions, a native speaker can differentiate between these two types of question. Can you say the questions below using two different intonations so that the meanings are different? 

Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV? (Choice)
Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV? (Yes/No)

In the choice question, the answer should be either "a movie" or "TV." However, in the Yes/No question above, the response should be "yes" or "no." Listen to the following videos to get an idea of what a choice question sounds like and how it is different from a "yes/no" question in intonation. The most important concept to keep in mind is the rising and falling intonation.

In a choice question, the voice goes up on the first choice and falls on the second choice as illustrated below.
                                 Q:  Do you want to go to a movie ⤴ or watch TV ⤵ ?
                                 A:  I'd like to watch a movie.

However, in a yes/no question, the voice goes up at the end of the question.
                                 Q:  Do you want to go to a movie or watch TV ⤴ ? 
                                  A: Yes. Let's do something relaxing.

If you have problems understanding the difference between the two types of question, listen to the examples and practice. Then practice some more. You should also record yourself using a device like Try to approximate the pronunciation of the people in the videos. Have fun!