When Your Inflection Sounds Like That of a Valley Girl

The other day I watched an interesting documentary on military planes and the man describing the different parts of the plane ended every, single sentence on the up-swing. What this means is that the inflection he used with every statement sounded like a question. (Inflection refers to changes in pitch in speaking.) As he is an authority on the subject, my first reaction was that he did not sound like an expert in his field. Instead, he sounded like a Valley Girl.

This problem is ever-present in both the X and Y generations and it places a description on you that does not include the word professional. When your sentences sound like questions, then your sentences are not statements but indeed questions. And, once this becomes a habit, it will take the retraining of your inner ear to break the habit and begin the process of recognizing when it is happening.

Try the following exercise with either a video recorder or a simple tape recorder.

Say the words, She said no as if you were disappointed. You should notice that the pitch of your voice dropped on the last word. Now say those words again as if you were surprised – as if you were asking a question. This time you should notice that the word nowas higher in pitch than the first two words. While I want you to listen to the recording, what is also important is listening to yourself as you say those words with both types of expression so that you can begin to recognize the difference in inflection between the statement and the question.

This exercise may seem simple but it is very effective for the retraining of your inner ear in order to recognize Valley Girl sound and normal inflection. [By the way, your inner ear is how you hear yourself inside your head. Your outer ear is how you hear yourself on recording equipment. The latter is the truth. By retraining your inner ear, however, you will be able to distinguish when your pitch changes and whether those changes are appropriate for the message you are delivering.]

The inflections of the man I mentioned in my opening paragraph were not at all compatible with what he was talking about. He is the expert but he didn’t sound like one. Your goal, especially in your professional life, is to sound like you know what you are talking about. If your statements sound like questions, then you are not instilling confidence in your listeners.