What's Up With Uptalk?


We have all heard the sing-song Valley Girl intonation pattern...”Hi, my name is Tiffany?”...

Whenever we hear it, we really do want to cringe, especially when it is during a formal presentation made by an otherwise intelligent, sophisticated woman. It is about as effective as shooting oneself in the foot!

However, for many of our clients, ending a sentence with a rising intonation pattern denotes friendliness in their culture (e.g., Turkey, Romania, etc.). There also is a trend among well-educated consultants to use up-talk to reflect a collaborative relationship with their clients.

So what are we as trainers to do?

First, explore why your client is using that type of speech pattern. Is it unconscious or is it intentional? Explore intercultural and work-culture influences.

If you and your client decide that habitual use of “up-talk” is detracting from the delivery of the message, here are a few techniques to work on it.

1. Use audio or video recordings. As with most speech habits, just hearing your own voice can bring the necessary awareness to a speaking style or habit.

2. Talk about how up-talk can be perceived. To many, a rising inflection pattern at the end of a message can incorrectly convey lack of experience or confidence. If that is not the intent, exploring ways to habituate a downward inflection would be

3. Practice saying the same sentence using 3 different inflection patterns, and talk about how the messages come across. For example, a rising inflection typically indicates surprise, uncertainty; a falling pattern indicates authority or certainty, and a partial rise indicates that more information will follow. Try the following examples out and see what we mean.

- First, say it like a statement of fact (falling pattern)
- Then, say it like you are totally surprised to hear that because you thought otherwise. (rising pattern)
- Finally, say it like it wasn't actually true and you may add more information (partial rise)

a. Yukiko doesn’t like her job.

b. Our grades were posted.

c. We have a conference call at seven a.m.

d. Kayla invited 400 people to her wedding.

e. Kit speaks five languages fluently.

If you need help coming across as a capable and effective speaker, contact us at info@eslrules.com.