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How to master the Chinese tones in fast and fun way

How to master the Chinese tones in fast and fun way

One of the most important things when learning Chinese are the tones. And although tones have the reputation of being particularly difficult, they are crucial. If a statement is predictable, the tones become less important, as the listener knows what you are going to say. But the moment you talk about things that are not obvious, tones become critical for a successful communication. This means that if you are talking about the weather you will be understood, perhaps. But if you talk business, tones will be crucial to get the message correctly to the other side. 

Chinese is not the only language with tones

People think that English doesn’t have its specific tones, but this is completely untrue. You do have tones, and you are using them every single day. In fact, the English language has all the tones that you use in the Chinese language. That is why the best way to learn Chinese tones is to be aware of the “when” and “how”. You already use tones; you just have to use them in the correct way.

An infographic that illustrates different tones in Chinese language

First you have to identify your regular speaking voice range. What that means, is that you have to understand how you use your normal voice. Many people start using their singing voice when trying to use tones. But in reality, you should use your normal speaking voice. To identify your normal voice, you have to determine the highest and lowest point of your voice. 

  • The highest point you will find in the English word “BABy” or  “MAYbe” when spoken with uncertainty. 
  • The lowest point you will find in the “UHHh” sound you are making when you are thinking. 

From a scale of 1 to 5, the “UHHh” sound, which is a low and flat sound, is 1, and “BAby”, the high and flat sound is 5. The normal voice that you use is somewhere in between, around 3. In fact, the “BAby” sound and “UHHh” sound are tones, so you have already learned two of the four tones in the Chinese and Mandarin language. The first and the third tone to be more precise. 

  • For the second tone, you should repeat the words:

Yes??? What??? HAH??? (Remember the question mark) 

This is a rising sound, from low to high and the second tone of Chinese. 

  • For the fourth tone, you should repeat these words

NO!!! SURE!!!! YEAH!!! (Remember the exclamation mark)

This tone is opposite to the previous one; it is a downward, falling tone, from up to down. 

 

Tone 1

Tone 2

Tone 3

Tone 4

 

BAby

Yes?

UHH

Yeah!

 

Symbol

-

/

˅

\

In English, you use tones to express emotions or attitudes. But in Chinese they have other meaning, so you have to associate them correctly. And the best way to learn Mandarin tones is to practice them in combination instead of practicing them separately. 

There is another tone that we did not speak of. It is called neutral tone; we call it toneless tone. For this tone, you have to remember that it’s in the middle of your voice point, and it’s very short and sweet.  The best example to understand how the fifth tone is pronounced is by pronouncing the word “xiè xie”. It is a combination of the fourth and fifth tone. The first xiè is pronounced like “what?” and the second xie is pronounced flat, using your middle voice. It is a word that is used a lot in the Chinese language, so you will hear it a lot. 

Firstly, practice the combinations using the English tones we learned at the beginning with “BABy-yes?-UHH-Yeah!” to get a feeling about how each combination should sound like. So for 1-1 is BABy - BABy, for 1-2 is BABy - yes?, for 1-3 is BABy - UHHH, and for 1-4 is BABy - YEAH!. After you repeated this for all the combinations, you can start practicing with the Chinese words using the correct tone combination. 

These are the five tones that you’ll find in Chinese. It is vital to memorize all 5 tones and practice them. In addition, you can find yourself a native speaker partner that will help you master the correct tone combinations. After that, you will see that you will be able to pronounce new words correctly almost instantaneously. And if you get the help of a native Chinese speaker, your Chinese language learning process will be an easy success.  

 

Browse our website to discover more valuable information about learning Mandarin in a successful way. 

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