Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

how do you remember the tones?


zozzen
 Share

Recommended Posts

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

With great difficulty; like remembering any type of fact.

The main issue Westerners have, unless they're very young, is that we've been brought up speaking a non tonal language so when we come across one, our brains don't process the tones. It takes training to hear them.

As an example, I hear the tone, but my brain ignores it and I have to, in effect, replay the sound in my head to pick up the tones in the sentence that's just been said to me. Of course, as I keep learning Chinese, my brain does learn to realise that the tones it's hearing can't just be thrown away and need to be processed; however it's still an ongoing process.

Am I making myself clear? I'm 38, and when someone talks to me, my sense of hearing picks up all the sounds and my brain interprets what it hears into information that it can process. It hears the tones but as it's spent 38 years just thinking "is this person annoyed, shouting, or asking a question?" once it's done that, it "throws" the tones away.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that learners of Mandarin that come from tonal language backgrounds only have an advantage in the sense that they can replicate the tones a little better than learners that don't come from a tonal language background. I don't think that coming from a tonal background helps people remember Mandarin tones any better than anyone else - you can see the distinction.

My first language is Cantonese, but I often get my tones in Mandarin mixed up because I can't remember which tone it's supposed to be. Similarly the few Thai students I've come across at school can have shocking tones despite their language background.

So, like everyone else, I have to sit there and remember whether something is supposed to be pronounced in first, second, etc..

Y

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lots of practice and review is the best method. The more you use the language the more natural the tones (and tone combinations) become. After 10 months of living in China and speaking all day everyday I'm now beginning to feel quite comfortable with them, but I'm far from perfect and will be for awhile yet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

(I'm from America, no Chinese background whatsoever. I'm also 56 and slightly hard of hearing...)

I'd like to post a differing viewpoint from what seems to be an "accepted" norm of not having tones natively in English.

Sure, from a linguist's point of view English doesn't have tones, but the reality is that we DO have tones (actually intonations), they're used for emotional content. I'm not talking about the linguistic definition, but a practical description of how the tone of the voice changes.

I've talked with people who have studied Chinese (one person is a 12+ language polyglot, but old and hard of hearing). They've said they can't hear tones. Usually, I reply "Oh, really?" with a little wait and then "Oh, Really!" (sort of deprecating). They ALWAYS can hear the correct intonations, etc.

So, my point is that if your native language is English (let's say), then your Hindbrain has already taken over the task of interpreting intonational information and stripping it from the word "recognition" concept processor, if I may make up my own terms :).

My assertion is that one way to improve tonal awareness is just to train yourself to me more aware. You have to learn how to listen to yourself. You can do this with recordings, but also just hold your hand in a fist to your mouth. The voice will bounce off of the cup shaped depresion between your thumb and first finger, and give a strong signal to the ear. It's something you can use in class without people thinking your strange (well -- too strange).

Now, with "new" (recently learned) words, I just hear them differently. So, if people I know are good speakers say a word in a different "tone", I just don't know the word. Or, if a poor speaker uses the wrong tone, I often just get confused, rather than parsing it like I would English.

To me, that says I'm heading in the right direction with my conceptualization, since that's how I observe native speakers often react.

The biggest single thing, however, is massive amounts of listening. The more listening you can do, the better it gets.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Usually, I reply "Oh, really?" with a little wait and then "Oh, Really!"

I covered this point earlier. The brain gets the tones from the ears, processes them as it wants (for Westerners it picks out any emotional content) then discards them. I need to teach my brain to hang on to them for a while longer so I can grab the Mandarin tones from each syllable too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Xiao Kui. Basically hear tones and say them a lot. Personally I couldn't say what tone I was using unless I thought carefully about it for a while.

That's why I think pinyin is a blind alley in learning Chinese as you then need to remember the tone too. Just listen and repeat (lots). Pinyin is really useful for dictionary reference, and character input selection on cell phones or computers. But it's a sure way to end up with toneless Chinese unless you are unusually gifted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I seem to have good memory for pitches: for the words I have heard before I usually have no trouble recalling the sound of the word as spoken in a podcast or in real life by the voice of the person I have heard it from. I can probably say, I have 'internalised' those words. Also, one of my friends is blessed with particularly clear tones and with an exceptionally low level of tolerance towards my tone mistakes: she's always very quick to correct me.

Lately, though, I have become exposed to a lot of written sources and it transpires that my capacity for retention of tone shapes from written sources is significantly lower.

So I have incorporated tone study into my character study and have introduced zero tolerance to tone errors when recalling the reading of a particular character. It seems to be working really well and as a side benefit allows me to deconstruct each word by recalling individual tones (which is a great confidence boost!).

I have played around with different techniques and have settled for a complex one.

I now associate tones through meanings of the characters to different emotions. So, the first tone becomes something robotic and mechanical, the second one is a questioning mood, the third one - something archane or secret, remote from the public eye, and the fourth one is a command. This is sufficiently specific to provide an excellent anchor and sufficiently vague for me to find a suitable association without too much effort. I'm not dogmatic about this, either, and will use a different association if it suggests itself. Thus, the third tone can become a wrapping-around movement or a curve in something, the fourth tone - a waterfall, etc... Sometimes the shape of the character provides a clue. Sometimes, it is easy to associate tones to a pattern. Thus, the following row 「十,百,千,萬,億」 is remembered as 2-3-1-4-4 - and for me it's a clear picture of the fingering on a guitar fretboard.

And so on... It remains very individual, though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

DrZero, for myself and possibly many others pinyin with tones are just plain misleading. Maybe it's because I'm not the most gifted linguist or I have a poor memory for tones. But with pinyin I easily remember the word but not the tone, this is true for many other people.

This can lead to very poorly spoken almost tone-less Chinese. So for myself constant conversation and repetition is the only way to learn spoken Chinese.

So If I know how to say the word as a native Chinese speaker does, and know the character why do I need to memorise the pinyin and tones?

If I was outside China I'd listen and repeat audio.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow...lots of good insights. I personally do something similar to furyou_gaijin. Since I'm a Westerner who didn't learn any Chinese until college, I had to find ways to connect the tones with meaning. And since we use tones in English for emotional content, that's the route I went too. For me, the first tone has a light, high, or childish connotation. The second, predictably, is usually questioning or sarcastic. The third is dark, low, or shifty. The fourth is impatient, angry, or just excited (commanding would work too).

Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't. I use similar "mnemonics" with memorizing the characters and syllable, and having 2 or 3 mnemonic devices for the same word can get to be too much. But sometimes it works really well. For example, I remember the metal radical as the gold radical. And when I learned “钟" I thought of high noon (the noon to relate it with time and a golden, sunshine-like feeling ). I also thought of the convenient Jackie Chan movie, which somehow worked as a reminder that the syllable was pronounced like the "zhong" in 中国 and combined "中" with the metal radical. It's a little weird, but I know I'm not the only one who's come up with associations like that. I find it works best when I really try to feel it and connect it with the emotion. It makes sense, since people remember better when their limbic systems (the ones that process emotions) are involved.

I also read something interesting about Westerners and pitch when doing a linguistics paper. There was an experiment with Western and Eastern babies, and it was found that the both groups of babies could distinguish pitch as well as relative pitch as babies. When they got older, though, a much higher percentage of Eastern babies had perfect pitch. The researchers theorized this was because tones were much more important in the language. At least, that's what I can remember.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

from an old post in the Tones thread :

Ideally it's not a separate question in your mind of what tone goes with a particular word. Basically if you spend enough time with the audio ... when you hear the word in your head, you will be hearing the version from a native speaker. (That of course assumes you hear the words in your head....)

I found that practicing with tapes enough to produce the tones and work towards natural rhythm, I ended up knowing the tones without having to memorize them separately. I don't know if this would work for everybody. But, it is certainly more fun than sitting quietly with a vocabulary list and trying to memorize what tone goes with each vocabulary word. The point is to train your vocal muscles, and let them train your memory of tones. Or something like that.... At least that's what I think happened with me, but the whole business is kind of mysterious.

And I'll add, that the tone mark on the pinyin is really helpful when I learn new vocabulary. I see the pinyin with tone mark, then I can say the word with confidence, and thus memorize the sound (as described above.)

as for Fireblade's comment:

So If I know how to say the word as a native Chinese speaker does, and know the character why do I need to memorise the pinyin and tones?

I would say that you don't need to memorize anything in that case. But if you can say a word with standard pronunciation and tone, then writing the pinyin with tone should be no extra work.

We had to take dictation in pinyin with tones. This checks if you are actually consciously hearing what a native speaker is saying at the level of detail needed to reproduce it accurately. So we became good at using pinyin(with tones) to tell us how to pronounce from scratch from a vocabulary list of new words, and also to transcribe native speach into pinyin, to check that we were hearing accurately. To the extent that both are important or necessary, I don't see how else to check yourself.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i remember when i was first learning the tones i thought the intonation of the second tone sounded like "huh?" in English and the 4th one sounded like "go!" in "on your mark, get set, go!"

later when i had to learn the tone combos for example a 3rd followed by a 2nd, i would sometimes check my pronunciation against a word with that pattern that I had heard a lot in conversation and really nailed down such as 导游 and that seemed to work for me. This probably wouldn't have been necessary if i had the opportunity to study with a teacher and repeat these things over and over with a native speaker, but since I was self taught that was the method i used. Later when I had the chance to study with a teacher I did all the standard pronunciation drills and they helped a lot, though saying the tones in a very natural way came later through listening to a lot of standard Chinese such as news broadcasts and audiobooks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And I'll add, that the tone mark on the pinyin is really helpful when I learn new vocabulary. I see the pinyin with tone mark, then I can say the word with confidence, and thus memorize the sound (as described above.)

I admit that if you learn words from vocabulary lists then it is helpful to know the tones. But I don't learn words that way. I learn all my vocabulary by listening. Both for mandarin and cantonese.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I admit that if you learn words from vocabulary lists then it is helpful to know the tones. But I don't learn words that way. I learn all my vocabulary by listening. Both for mandarin and cantonese.

It is not just vocabulary lists per se. What if you come across a new word while reading, and you look it up in a dictionary that does not have an audio file for the entry? Of course you may say that 99% of the time you will have access to a dictionary with audio. Perhaps I'm just a dinosaur.

But the work flow of reading stuff on a palm with pleco, using the instant access feature to look up new words is very efficient. It would be a bummer to have to flip over to a dictionary with audio. Of course pleco is supposed to have audio coming up. Since I know pinyin well enough I'll save the memory and not load the audio in the new pleco if that is an option (I certainly hope so!)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I treat tones as part of the word/syllable, if I don't remember the tone (often even if it's a light one in this particular case), I look them. I mark tones everywhere (used to write full pinyin everywhere). This zero tolerance to not knowing tones works for me.

To remember tones you must use them. I speak slowly in Chinese because I'm very conscious of tones except for expressions I am 100% comfortable with. Sometimes, I exaggerate tones a bit but it's better than to ignore them. Naturalness comes with experience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm really just a beginner at Mandarin, but the tones really aren't that big of a problem for me (not so far anyway)! I do play, and listen to TONS of music though, maybe it helps, but when I hear a word and memorize it, I really memorize the sound!...I just know how it sounds...

ex: I'm not sure what the exact tones for Putonghua are (if I had to guess I would say 3,1 4) but I always remember how it sounds...or how it flows...

Could definitely had something to do with having a musical ear? Or a better "sound" memory hehe not sure how to say it...on the other hand, I'm less of a visual so I learn characters much slowly than word pronunciation...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

t is not just vocabulary lists per se. What if you come across a new word while reading, and you look it up in a dictionary that does not have an audio file for the entry? Of course you may say that 99% of the time you will have access to a dictionary with audio. Perhaps I'm just a dinosaur.

I don't have a dictionary with audio, but I make sure that I only do learning from audio resources. Movies, audio books, podcasts, whatever I can get my hands on. As I listen to a piece of audio the first time I will edit out all the new words in the audio and make them into separate audio files. Then I use supermemo to drill them. I also practice reading of course but only in combination with listening to audio.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...