See how a little bit different intonation has a big effect in meaning
When you already know the Russian alphabet and you have started to build sentences by yourself you will find out that Russian intonation is a tricky one.
We use intonation as a way to express our emotions and feelings. One sentence said in different intonations can express various communication goals. You will be surprised when I tell you that in Russian we have 7 intonation constructions to pronounce the same grammatically written sentence.
Example Basic Intonation
1. У нас сегодня урок. (Today we have lesson, not dancing or shopping but lesson.)
2. У нас сегодня урок. (Today we have lesson, not tomorrow or day after tomorrow but today.)
3. У нас сегодня урок. (Today we have lesson, not they or somebody else but we.)
4. У нас сегодня урок… (Unhappy intonation that today we have lesson.)
5. У нас сегодня урок! (Happy intonation that today we have lesson.)
6. У нас сегодня урок? (Do we have lesson today? Or dancing or shopping.)
7. У нас сегодня урок? (Do we have lesson today? Or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.)
I have a student who cannot understand why Russians are so serious about accuracy of the translation. He thinks if a sentence is grammatically and lexically correct it should have the same meaning. I hope I could convey the importance of correct intonation with this example.
In addition it is sometimes difficult to understand a sentence cut from the context. Context plays an important role in Russian language.
Example Complex Sentences
To make the Russian intonation more clear let us see how it works in complex sentences:
1. Я знаю, что ты читаешь.
2. Я знаю, что ты читаешь.
3. Я знаю что ты читаешь
All these sentences look the same but just pronounce it with different intonation and you will see different contexts in which it can be said.
1. Я знаю, что ты читаешь. (I know that you are reading. You emphasize that you know that this person is reading not dancing or drinking vodka in the bar. He is a serious man and likes to read some newspapers in the evening).
2.Я знаю, что ты читаешь! (I know that you are reading. You emphasize that you know that exactly this person is reading. Imagine a situation at university during final examw where the professor sees that one student is not writing exam but reading some magazine about luxurious life abroad. Then professor speaks to him like this).
3. Я знаю что ты читаешь! (I know what you are reading. You emphasize that you know what exactly this person is reading. Imagine a situation where parents come back home and see their daughter is reading something. They know that she is not reading Pushkin or Tolstoy because yesterday they saw her reading some fashion magazine. So today they will shout a little bit on her).
I can assume that Russian intonation is one more way to understand Russian language and Russian people better.
Wish you good luck!