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how do you remember the tones?


zozzen
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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.

I have read several posts where people emphasize speaking slowly in chinese to get the tones right and I can't say that I agree with this. If you feel the need to speak slowly you need to work on your rhythm and more importantly learn words and expressions from audio resources. I would say that you should listen a lot and imitate a lot so that you have alot expressions which you can just blurt out without having to think about it.

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If you feel the need to speak slowly you need to work on your rhythm and more importantly learn words and expressions from audio resources. I would say that you should listen a lot and imitate a lot so that you have alot expressions which you can just blurt out without having to think about it.
I think you're a bit extreme in this, bomaci. To me, learning to speak a foreign language is like learning to drive a car, you just can't help doing it slowly at the beginning (or heading for accidents!). Once you've done enough work to react more like by instinct and to go fast safely, you're then no longer at the stage of learning we're talking about.
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I’ve found that the best way for me to remember tones, pronunciation, vocabulary, is to listen and repeat over and again until it sticks. Natural sounding audio that I can mimic creates the most effective impression in my memory, but if it’s coupled with a pinyin visual element, then so much the better.

@bomaci

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.

I do the same thing. How do you use your audio files; e.g., do you integrate them with another tool?

I’m hoping that in its next release, ZDT will allow me to associate my sound files with vocabulary words in word lists that I would create. So, for example, I could clip all the words from a podcast and make a word list for it. Then I could import/associate the sound files with the vocabulary and have an audio + visual reinforcement mechanism. This would also be helpful for learning characters, as it should work in the dictionary and flashcard features. Such natural audio enhanced word lists could then be publicly exchanged with others, assuming they’re of creative commons or otherwise open source origins. The current sound files used by ZDT would remain as a backup, but I don’t find them useful, as they sound artificial. Especially the multi-syllable words are missing the rhythm and music of natural speech, which I find necessary to make a good audio memory.

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furyou gaijin and anyone else using mnemonics to remember tones. I understand what you're doing, but I'm missing the big picture.

1. Could you give a brief explanation of how you memorize the pronunciation of the whole word?

2. One poster mentioned they used a seperate mnemonic for the other aspects (initials and finals); does anyone roll it all into one mnemonic?

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I do the same thing. How do you use your audio files; e.g., do you integrate them with another tool?

I put them in SuperMemo which has a feature for importing audio files. I put the audio file as the question in SuperMemo and then put the transcription of the audio in characters as the answer. I also include translation of unknown words in the answer. However I usually don't include pinyin.

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furyou gaijin and anyone else using mnemonics to remember tones. I understand what you're doing, but I'm missing the big picture.

1. Could you give a brief explanation of how you memorize the pronunciation of the whole word?

2. One poster mentioned they used a seperate mnemonic for the other aspects (initials and finals); does anyone roll it all into one mnemonic?

1. As mentioned above, if I can recall the sound of that word as pronounced by a native speaker, I use that memory to guide me. For all other words and for new words learnt from reading, I don't need to remember the pronunciation of the whole word - I rely on remembering the tones for each component character. There is a slight side note to this, as some characters are pronounced with different tones depending on the context - I don't have any particular system to deal with that and am just trying to remember those cases when I see them. The general method covers well of 95% of the words I come across so it's good enough for now.

Besides, I find there is great show-off value in being able to come up with a tone for each separate character - the way John Pasden does on CPod... :-)

2. I try to avoid very complex mnemonics. I would typically remember the actual sound of the word (less the tone) by linking it somehow to a known word of the same sound. Relatively infrequent sounds (such as 'qiong') seem to take care of themselves.

I have seem mnemonic systems linking the character shape, meaning and readings (for kanji) into one story. For me personally, such a system would quickly become unwiedly and end up being a goal in itself rather than a way to help me remember...

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I've got big tone problems too - I am quite fluent and everyone always comments on the fact that I have picked up so much Chinese in my 7 months in China - I can also recognise a lot of characters. However, I know that my tones are wrong most of the time - at this stage I'm not too worried but I think that when I start to study in September I am going to have a tough time! I am worried cos I know a lot of words and, effectively, I will have to go back to the basics with picking up tones for many words that I can already use very effectively!

I guess lecturers in University will tell me that they can't understand what I am saying just to make me improve my tones!!! That's probably the best form of motivation - being scared that people won't get what you are trying to say!

Anyways, at this stage I am focused on vocab rather than tones...

I'll probably find a local tutor to see if he/she can help me grasp the missing links!

Cj

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I guess lecturers in University will tell me that they can't understand what I am saying just to make me improve my tones!!! That's probably the best form of motivation - being scared that people won't get what you are trying to say!

I kind of doubt they will pester you too much as they won't be able to cover the material. I think it will be up to you. This is discussed in the Tones thread you have no doubt looked at.

Another thing is I noticed at the web site for Univ. of Michigan (Ann Arbor) that they have a course specifically for improving pronunciation at the 2nd or 3rd yr level. You might try to arrange something like that if you aren't corrected enough in regular class.

And if you need some extra motivation to work on this, here is also a thread about mis-understandings related to incorrect tones, including a post that cites a paper by some linguist/comp scientists at Univ. of Chicago that suggest the information content in tones is about the same proportion as vowels in spoken Mandarin.

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Anyways, at this stage I am focused on vocab rather than tones...

I know you have probably heard this before, but saying this is like saying, "When learning english I am focused on vocab rather than long or short vowels". The tone is part of the word just like long or short vowel or stress is part of a word in english. If you learn a word without its tone you haven't learnt it. For example an english student could say "I think long and short vowels are too hard to learn so I just focus on vocab now". Well if you don't learn the difference between long and short vowels how are you going to tell "He was beaten by a hooligan" from "He was bitten by a hooligan"? The same thing applies for tones. If you say a word with the wrong tones the chinese speaker has to think and concentrate very hard on what you are saying.

Of course you CAN communicate without tones. Just as you can communicate witout distinguishing between long and short vowels in english. But you are bound to run into alot of situations where communication becomes quite difficult.

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Anyways, at this stage I am focused on vocab rather than tones...
If you learn a word without its tone you haven't learnt it.

Give the guy a break. He's not saying he'll never learn the tones, he's saying that he's not learning them right now.

I'm sure he knows that he hasn't "learned" the word until he learns the tone. You could say a person hasn't "learned" a word if they're not able to use it comfortably in speech too. But is it fair to make it sound like the work one does building up to "learning" is worthless?

I didn't care about the tones in Thai when I started learning it. This allowed me to progress pretty quickly. After about 300 hours of study, I went to Thailand, and quickly found out I couldn't be understood. Upon returning home, I worked on my tones about 30 min per day for 2 weeks, and practiced conversation with my tutor. I returned to Thailand, and was well understood.

I don't advocate learning a tonal language the way I learned Thai. Pronunciation is probably the only aspect of language learning in which I'm above average, which is probably what let me pull this off. In studying mandarin, I'm learning the tones from the beginning, which just feels better.

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leosmith,

Learning the words first and backtracking the tones is not what I'd call an absurd proposition -- I'm sure it can be done, and in fact it happens to me sometimes because my brain recalls the word but discards the tone, and I have to go back and relearn the tone. It is just not an approach I would recommend, because it handicaps communication from the get-go. It not only makes your Chinese hard to understand, but it makes it hard for you to understand spoken Chinese. All in all, I think that could be discouraging.

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I'm chinese.It's interesting to see you learn the tones so hard.

It remind me that enlarging our vocabulary is the most difficult thing for us in learning English.I just can't understand why there are so many English words to learn.As a university student,I have to know about 50,000 English words.That is a so huge number for us.But as a Chinese learner,you only have to know about 2500 Chinese characters.It means we have to learn 20 times words more than you.You are so lucky.How I envy you!

Haha,learning language is a hard work. No matter what language it is,just work hard,you will success finally.

It's so interesting.:mrgreen:

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As a university student,I have to know about 50,000 English words.That is a so huge number for us.But as a Chinese learner,you only have to know about 2500 Chinese characters.It means we have to learn 20 times words more than you.You are so lucky.How I envy you!

Are you sure you really need to know 50000 english words? I have tested myself (I am not a native speaker) and I seem to know about 16000 english words and I can ready pretty much everything I come across and can understand almost everything I hear. I wish chinese was that easy but the thing is that we as students of chinese have to learn tons of chinese words as well. Because even if you know the characters that make up word that doesn't mean that you know the word itself. Just because you know 实 and 在 doesn't mean you understand 实在.

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Give the guy a break. He's not saying he'll never learn the tones, he's saying that he's not learning them right now.

I'm sure he knows that he hasn't "learned" the word until he learns the tone. You could say a person hasn't "learned" a word if they're not able to use it comfortably in speech too. But is it fair to make it sound like the work one does building up to "learning" is worthless?

I just don't understand why you should postpone learning of tones. Just like you shouldn't postpone learning about words stress and long/short vowel distinction in English. If an english learner pronounces "beaten" and "bitten" excatly the same would you say he has learnt these two words?

Sure if you want to learn chinese just to read books and don't want to speak to anyone you can ignore the tones but if your goal is communication with chinese people you are better off learning the tones right away. Now if what he means is that he is learning by imitation and not studying the tones formally that is another matter entirely.

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How do I remember tones?

I am self-taught and have little or no access to live Chinese speakers, but when I read I try to produce the correct tones and rhythm in my head. I am not yet a fluid enough reader to make this too much of a burden.

Like previous posters, I also try to recall the word as pronounced by a native speaker. Since I almost never converse with Chinese speakers, I rely on tapes, broadcasts, or movies.

For the majority of cases, I try to remember the tone as part of a two word compound. For example, I find it easier to remember the pitch contour and stress pattern of a word like 搏斗 bódòu than it is to remember the individual characters. This is the only way I have been able to remember the characters of a word like,宇宙 yǔzhòu (cosmos), for which I could not bother to come up with good mnemonics. I find this method also helps my vocabulary.

I reinforce the previous method by trying to choose pairs that somehow complement each other. For instance, for a while, I used to confuse the tones of 底 dǐ (bottom) and 低 dī (drop), but found the tones of the word 到底 dàodǐ (to the end) easy to remember. I then remembered that 低 must have the other tone, which I simply remembered. If you wanted specific help for 低, however, you could use a compound like 高低 gāodī (height) and note that the tones of both characters are the same. I find choosing compounds with characters of the same tone, particularly helpful, e.g., 目的 mùdì (goal), 银行 yínháng (bank), 跛脚 bǒjiǎo (lame), and 夷狄 yídí (eastern and northern barbarians.

I used to confuse 封 fēng (seal), 丰 fēng (abundance), 奉 fèng (accept or offer with respect), but find it easier to remember the tones of 一封信 yī fēng xìn (one letter), 丰富 fēngfù (plentiful), and 奉命 fèng mìng (receive orders).

When the above methods are not readily available. I use mnemonics, often blended into the mnemonics for the character elements. For example, for 捞 lāo (dredge), I have used an image of a large flat grate being dragged along the flat bottom of the ocean. For the second tone, I use images of rising actions or objects. For example, for 脖 bó, you could use the image of a giraffe's neck rising up. For the third tone, I use images of scooping (舀?) or bending actions. For example, for 底 dǐ (bottom), you could think of jumping to the "bottom" of a trompoline and bouncing up. For the fourth tone, I think of images of falling actions or objects, or ocassionally of commands. For example, for 递 dì (hand over), you could think of little brother trying to hand over dimsum with chopsticks and having a dumpling fall into the tea.

Menmonics are what used to help me remember the tones of 富 and 福, which I often confused. I remember that 富 means "rich" because it means hoarding goods under the roof (宀) of your house. You can eat so much that you can run your palms down over your rounded belly. The down motion indicates fourth tone, or "fù." For 福, I remember that good fortune and blessings come only when the divine is included (礻or altar) and you send prayers to rise to heaven. Rising means second tone or "fú."

Here are some more examples. For 赴 fù (attend), you can remember wandering around (走) until you put your stick (卜) in the ground and sit down to listen. "Down" indicates fourth tone. For 卜bǔ (divination), you could remember casting chicken bones or looking down at your cracked tortoise shell and then looking up to give your prediction to the king. The change in direction indicates third tone.

The last method I use is to try to note when the phonetic elements of characters are reliable for the tone; however, since this is often misleading, I usually try to link it to other methods. Some character elements are better than others. For instance, 朋 (friend), 棚 (shed), 鹏 (roc), and even 膨 (expand) are all péng. For 彭 Péng, you can remember the rising beats of a drum and provide a link with 膨.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Learning the words first and backtracking the tones is not what I'd call an absurd proposition -- I'm sure it can be done, and in fact it happens to me sometimes because my brain recalls the word but discards the tone, and I have to go back and relearn the tone. It is just not an approach I would recommend, because it handicaps communication from the get-go. It not only makes your Chinese hard to understand, but it makes it hard for you to understand spoken Chinese. All in all, I think that could be discouraging.

Totally agree. That's why I said

I don't advocate learning a tonal language the way I learned Thai.

I was just trying to make the point that it is possible.

Sure if you want to learn chinese just to read books and don't want to speak to anyone you can ignore the tones but if your goal is communication with chinese people you are better off learning the tones right away.

Once again, his end goal is the same as yours. He's not going to ignore tones forever. He has chosen a different path. Learning the words without the tones is just an early stage of his method. I'm sure he understands that he won't be able to communicate until he has completed his method, that is, learned the tones. What he's banking on is that his method (learning the un-toned words first, then learning the tones later), is faster than the standard practice (learning it all at once). I agree that his method is not the best way for most people. But it's not impossible, since I did it with Thai.

Maybe he'll learn Mandarin this way, realize Thai girls are prettier, and learn Thai the other way, to prove to himself what method is better.

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I'm chinese.It's interesting to see you learn the tones so hard.

It remind me that enlarging our vocabulary is the most difficult thing for us in learning English.I just can't understand why there are so many English words to learn.As a university student,I have to know about 50,000 English words.That is a so huge number for us.But as a Chinese learner,you only have to know about 2500 Chinese characters.It means we have to learn 20 times words more than you.You are so lucky.How I envy you!

Learning a character very often means - learn a character and some words, which use this character, otherwise you learn a character again if you come across it in a different situation. That's why learning a number of Chinese character means learning a lot of Chinese vocabulary at the same time, big difference from learning an alphabet. If a person says, I know 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 or more Hanzi, it means how much Chinese language they know. In my opinion, if you only can recognise a few thousand characters or know only one meaning/reading but you can't use them efficiently.

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I'm a second year student in Chinese and am currently in an intensive language program here in Beijing, and I have to say that the best way to learn tones is to hear the words being spoken in context, or practice using the words in a sentence. Over time, the correct tone will just come without thinking about it. I know it sounds weird, but I have seen way too many learners of Chinese talking like robots because they are focusing too much on the tones...and not enough on the flow and sound of the sentence. Ironically a lot of the students who talk the slowest make the most tonal mistakes...does anyone else notice this?

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students who talk the slowest make the most tonal mistakes

That was my trick during my oral exam. If I forgot the tones for a particular word I'd say it really fast and just wobble my voice a bit. Too quick to clearly pick up the tones and, theoretically, no one noticed that I didn't actually have a clue what they were.

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