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Learning English: using the correct pronunciation

In the above video, you heard Sarah talk about why pronunciation and stress are important in conveying meaning.
SARAH BISSELL: Hi! In this video, we talk about why pronunciation and stress are important in conveying meaning. In PTE, you don’t have to sound exactly like a native speaker of English to do well. However, you do need to use pronunciation, intonation, and stress that can be understood by a regular speaker of English. This means you need to make sure your vowel and consonant sounds are pronounced in a native-like way, with the correct word stress. You also need to use the correct sentence stress to convey meaning. Pronunciation and Stress. Word stress. The individual sounds or syllables in words aren’t pronounced with the same weight. A syllable is a unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound.
Words might have one syllable, for example, ‘sent,’ or more than one syllable, for example, ‘present,’ ‘presenter,’ ‘presentation.’ When a word has more than two syllables, one syllable is emphasised more than the others. Let’s look at which syllable is stressed in the following word family, ‘Pre-SENT,’ ‘Pre-SENT-er,’ ‘Pres-en-TA-tion.’ Word stress is important, because changing the syllable emphasis can change the meaning of the word. Compare ‘Pre-SENT’ with ‘PRES-ent.’ To stress syllables in words, we use a combination of different features. We pronounce stressed syllables longer, louder, with higher pitch, with more clarity, using large facial movements. Let’s take a look at three related words. ‘PHO-to-graph,’ ‘pho-TOG-ra-pher,’ and ‘pho-to-GRAPH-ic.’ Do they sound the same when spoken? No.
Because we stress a different syllable in each word. Compare ‘PHO-to-graph,’ ‘pho-TOG-ra-pher,’ ‘pho-to-GRAPH-ic.’ We just saw how stress can change the meaning of a word. Sentence stress is equally important. Where you place an emphasis in a sentence can change the meaning of that sentence. Normally, this emphasis is on words that carry important information. Let’s look at an example to see how the sentence stress can change the meaning of the sentence. “I don’t think she should go to Sydney.” Meaning, that other people might think she should go. “I DON’T think she should go to Sydney.” Meaning, I’m strongly against the idea. “I don’t THINK she should go to Sydney.” Meaning, but perhaps it would be a good idea.
“I don’t think SHE should go to Sydney.” Meaning, someone else should go. “I don’t think she SHOULD go to Sydney.” Meaning, after considering it, I don’t think it’s the best plan. “I don’t think she should GO TO Sydney.” Meaning, it would be better if she stayed here, instead of going there. “I don’t think she should go to SYDNEY.” Meaning, Brisbane would be a better city for her to go to. It’s important to understand how different words are stressed within sentences. Working on pronunciation exercises that allow you to identify and practise this, will help.

Rising and falling intonation

In the Repeat Sentence and Read Aloud test items you will need to use both word and sentence stress to help convey meaning.

Rising and falling intonation patterns express meaning effectively by showing how ideas are linked or coming to an end. The table below lists some examples of how rising and falling intonation convey meaning.

Asking questions Example
If a question is a yes or no question, your voice rises at the end of the question. Have you registered your details with the student accommodation guild? ↑
If a question is an information question, your voice falls at the end of the question. When are we expecting to finish the assignment? ↓
Question tags Example
If you are using a question tag to clarify, your voice rises to let the listener know that you expect more information. We aren’t expecting to finish the assignment by Friday, are we? ↑
If you think you know something, but would like to confirm it, let the voice fall in the question tag. You are staying in student accommodation, aren’t you? ↓
Making statements Example
Statements that give facts or information use falling intonation at the end of the sentence. Please submit your work online, if you can. ↓
Emotive words and expressions use rising or falling intonation depending on the type of emotion you want to express. Eating a balanced diet can lead to positive health outcomes. ↑
Overeating can lead to negative health outcomes. ↓
Listing things Example
Items in a list use rising intonation until the final item, which uses falling intonation. Students will use the data to create graphs, ↑ display them in tables, ↑ and generate a survey. ↓


The PTE Test

In the PTE Test, the Repeat Sentence task type requires you to understand and remember a sentence, then repeat the sentence exactly as you hear it using correct pronunciation and stress.

Copy the stress and intonation patterns of the sentence you hear. Listen to the way the speaker uses stress and intonation on the recording. These patterns help convey meaning. You need to copy the stress and intonation by speaking calmly and clearly to produce similar speech sounds.

Let’s take a look at an example. The stressed words or syllables are in bold and the intonation is marked by arrows. Remember the best test responses contain words and phrases stressed correctly with native-like fluency.

I’m going to the program welcome, ↑ orientation session, ↑ and group workshop ↑ for new students. ↓
If you’d like to more about PTE success, check out the full online course, from Griffith University, below. 


Beare, Kenneth. (2020). Rising and Falling Intonation in Pronunciation. Retrieved from here.

British Council. (2020). Word Stress. Retrieved from here.

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