TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns

Learning TOEFL speaking intonation patterns helps you improve your delivery during the speaking section. For instance, delivery is one of the three categories on ETS’s speaking rubrics that iBT human raters rely on when they are scoring your four speaking tasks. Furthermore, listen below to two students completing TOEFL speaking practice tests. One of the speakers has a more natural sounding intonation. The other speaker has many problems with intonation.

TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns

First, TOEFL speaking practice test with intonation issues:


TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns


Second, TOEFL speaking practice test with natural sounding intonation:


Although TOEFL speaking intonations patterns are complex, learning three important rules will help you to speak more clearly and more naturally.

TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns Rule 1: Numbers


Numbers can be tricky in English. Therefore, you want to use a natural sounding tone. Keep in mind the following intonation and stress patterns:


Place more stress and pitch on the second syllable with “teen”numbers:

First, listen to the following numbers pronounced by a native speaker. Then practice saying each number out loud as you listen to the recording the second time.

  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19

With numbers of “ten,” place more stress and pitch on the first syllable.

First of all, listen to a speaker pronounce the following numbers. Second of all, practice saying them out loud with the speaker.

  • 30
  • 40
  • 50
  • 60
  • 70
  • 80
  • 90

When saying several numbers in a sequence such as a phone number or an address, group 2-3 numbers together.

  • Pause after each group of numbers and use a slightly higher pitch.
  • Use a slightly lower pitch when you get to the last number.

Listen to the speaker say the following phone numbers and addresses. Then practice saying them with the speaker.

  • My phone number is (909) 880-0332.
  • John’s phone number is (760) 674-4569.
  • My street address used to be 1425 Keystone Drive.
  • My friends lives at 12789 Livingston Avenue.

TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns Rule 2: Items in a Series


Pause after each item in series, and use a slightly higher pitch on every item. The use a falling tone on the last item in a series. Listen to each sentence uttered by a native speaker. Then practice saying each sentence. Remember to vary your tone as you say each item.


  • I have several hobbies I like to do in my free time: fishing, swimming, biking, reading, running, and landscaping.
  • Because my friend is too busy, because he does not know much about the opera, and because he is having financial difficulties, he will not go with us to “Phantom of the Opera.”
  • To prepare for his job, Kentaro has to complete several steps in the hiring process: completion of a cover letter, a curriculum vitae, and a teaching statement of philosophies; an interview with a eight-member panel; and submission of college transcripts.

TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns Rule 3: Thought Groups


Knowing when and where to pause can be unique to each speaker.

  • Too many pauses in each sentence you speak can be distracting such as the below recording:


  • However, not enough pauses can make it difficult for the audience to follow your ideas, as you can learn in the next example recording:


Following a few basic rules regarding thought groups can help you improve your pacing as your complete the TOEFL speaking tasks 1-4.

Generally, pause after 4-5 content words in a sentence. Use a slightly higher tone at the end of each thought group except the last one in a sentence.


  • The testimony presented by house managers / implicated the President of the United States / in either constitutional or criminal wrong doing.

Introductory phrases or dependent clauses represent thought groups. Use rising tone at the end of these types of thought groups.


  • Having much to think about since the last day of class, / Larry finally decided to pursue / a graduate degree in business administration.
  • Although some do not prefer to take notes, / students scoring above 100 / almost always jot down key points / during the reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections of the TOEFL exam.

Punctuation such as commas, colons, and dashes may require that you make a pause in your speech.  Be sure to use a slightly higher pitch at the end of these punctuation marks.

  • It rained most of the day last Friday. Therefore, referees and coaches decided to cancel the football game.
  • Lucy enjoys several hobbies: reading, writing, and talking with native speakers of English.
  • Abdul has two strategies for improving his English–reading extensively and taking TOEFL-level practice tests.


Additional Pronunciation Resources


Now that you have had practice improving TOEFL speaking intonation patterns, check out my TOEFL Resources web page which will give you LOTS and LOTS of practice.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,

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1 thought on “TOEFL Speaking Intonation Patterns”

  1. Pingback: This student scored 106 on the TOEFL - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

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