The Music of Language

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To sound like a native you have to be careful to pronounce your words perfectly. In this lesson we’re going to look at the music of language, and a few rules to learn to sound like a natural. We’re also going to look at a few phrasal verbs.

Music of English

  • Intonation – This is the up and down of the voice:

Excuse me…


  • Stress – The accented syllables in individual words:


  • Rhythm – the stressed syllables over a group of words:

What do you mean you can’t come?

Next time you listen to spoken English, listen for these three elements.

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are made of a verb and a particle (normally a preposition). Phrasal verbs sometimes have a literal meaning, and sometimes an idiomatic meaning:

  • Literal:

I looked up and saw the helicopter.

  • Idiomatic:

I looked it up on Wikipedia.

Here are a few phrasal verbs and their literal and idiomatic meanings:

pick up = take / learn a skill

put down = put on a surface / euthanise an animal

hold on = grip / wait

put up = raise / let someone stay with you

sort out = categorise things / solve a problem

take off = remove clothing / start to be popular

stand up = get up from a chair / defend someone