My tricks for hearing and speaking Madarin Tones

I had a hard time when I first started Chinese like most people in speaking and understanding tones. It’s such a different way than how we speak.
Or so I thought.

But then I realized… in English, we do speak in “tones”. We just use them in a different way.

Think about saying these two phrases. (Saying them out loud would probably make it clearer.)

I am going to the store.

I am going to the store?

Likely, when you asked the question, your voice raised a little at the end of the sentence. Anyone (native English speaker, that is) who heard you speak it knew you were asking a question, even though you said the exact same words as before. I’m sure you’ve never thought about it because it’s just built in to the way we speak. We do it without thinking. Just like a native Chinese can hear the nuances in tone without even thinking. But when they speak English, they sound very flat. With no “feeling” in their speech. That’s because Chinese doesn’t use intonation for “feeling”.

In Chinese, the tones are used to differentiate between words instead of punctuation. They have words that speak pronunciation. {ma} for example added to the end of the sentence says I just asked a question. Just like speaking the question mark. {ba} added to the end makes a suggestion. And the tones are used to make different words

Take shì (是) & shí(十).

Make the statement “Shi.” And be very clear you are making a statement… You just said the word “is”.

Now ask “Shi?” Be sure it sounds like a question. You just said the word “ten”.

Same syllables. Different intonation. You just learned how to say the 2nd and 4th tones of Mandarin.

The first and third don’t translate quite as easily but most people find them the easiest to hear. They both sound a little like singing to me. The first tone sounds like you are singing a high flat note at the top of your range. Hard to explain but pretty to easy to hear.

Third tone is a low dip with your voice. Very low and deep.

And now you’ve learned my little trick for speaking tones in Chinese. Anytime, I need to say a word with 4th tone, I just make it a question. Second tone is a statement. The other tones you just have to hear someone say and learn to be a mockingbird.

Here is another site with more detail and some audio clips on Mandarin tones if you want to get more technical about it.

You might also like my post on the Top 12 words you should learn in Mandarin.

What is your best trick for learning and speaking Chinese?


2 thoughts on “My tricks for hearing and speaking Madarin Tones

  1. We found this whole tone thing to be true while living in Australia. The Aussie’s say many statement sentences with the same higher tone at the end that we would use for a question. A friend of mine has termed this as “up-speaking” but that is completely unofficial.

  2. Yall’s Blog is SO helpful (Texan) Me and my wife are thinking about moving over to shenzhen and this helps ease our nerves a lot. Yall have made a huge difference in our family.

    Thanks again (xie xie)