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HerrPetersen

Visualizing Pinyin Tones

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HerrPetersen

I am pretty sure lots of you long-time-learners have some kind of method to make memorizing tones easier.

I will shortly summarize, what I plan to do and hope for critizism/comments.

My initial concept goes as follows: charachterize the tones:

  1. First tone: balanced out, even,
  2. Second tone: questioning, rising,
  3. Third tone: goingupanddown(help?)
  4. Fourth tone: falling, violent, forcefull,
  5. No tone: emptyness (help?)

those chrachteristic I want to portray by using the following images:

  1. A Buddah
  2. This animal (surely looks like wanting to ask a question to me)
  3. roalercoster - goes up and down
  4. Mr. T (who is more forcefull/violent etc than him?)
  5. I am leaving this blank until the need of a mnemonic arises.

Edit: I decided to take an roalercoaster for the 3rd tone, and no mnemonic so far for the 5th tone.

For me as a Heisig-graduate this would adopting some ideas from Matthew's book (though only for tones and only for those, that I have trouble with) - associating a known hanzi with an image of one of the charachters mentioned above and thereby not forgetting the tone. But it doesn't really matter how one learned hanzi, it should be use-able for all.

Example:

绸 is known as "silk" also known is that is pronounced as "chou" (how do you call a syllable in pinyin without a tone?) - so one imagines for instance the squirrel-like animal biting its way through the silk and thereby remembers that 绸 is pronounced with a second tone.

So has anybody ideas for different and/or more characteristics of the tones? (especially the 3rd one) And maybe even ideas for the persons/animals/things for the ones I left blank?

I am thinking about a shark for the 3rd (having rows of teeth going up and down) and maybe and animal that flies for the 5th (or do you call it blank?) tone - if at all necessary.

Edited by HerrPetersen

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HerrPetersen

My first impression was: those things are too unlively - they cannot do lots of things. With a second thought you can can do all kinds of things in a valley or in switzerland - so it is a pretty good idea.

But then again - when thinking of switzerland, valleys might be too close theme-wise.

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Ole

You could try to relate all the third tone words to : 我.

was just an idea ...

Ole

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imron

3: How about a rollercoaster?

5: Nothings says emptiness like the void of deep space.

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wossaaat

It's an interesting idea.

I think you'll have a few problems down the road though. Without wishing to be a naysayer, here are just a few off the top of my head so you'll be prepared:

- You will need to be careful and maintain a consistency in the order or nature of the connected imagery. The more words and images you connect with a single image, the more confusing it will become, depending on which way round you 'memorise' the images. Taking your silk image as an example, you would need to first view the silk and associate the tone to it by then having the meerkat tear through it. If you memorised the meerkat first, you will have thousands of images associated to this one meerket, which you will never be able to recall.

- You may find it difficult to come up with associative imagery for abstract vocab. This is made even more difficult because as I just mentioned, you have to order your associations, so you can't see the character 迷 (mi2) and because it's second tone think of a puzzled meerkat, or even a meerkat with an arsenal scarf round its neck. You would need to think of 'puzzled' or a 'fan/enthusiast' first and work the meerkat in afterwards.

- You will probably find it difficult to associate imagery to bi-syllabic words, especially when the character looses all meaning when separated. This gets even more complicated when both characters mean the same thing even when separate, but have different tones.

- You may become confused by adding toneless characters. A lot of toneless characters aren't always toneless, but adopt a 'toneless-ness' in certain context. Presumably, you will be creating mnemonical associations to individual characters... right? If you are doing them for words, you will often have two or more tones to memorize, which in turn need to be in the correct order, complicating matters even more. So, assuming you are associating on a single character basis, things may become confusing when a character is or is not toneless. This would actually mean that it'll be difficult to distinguish whether you characterise the tone or not.

- Whilst in theory this method could be a great reminder of what a tone is when it doesn't naturally 'roll of the larynx' so to speak, you must of course always bare in mind that it can never be more than that. For fluency and speed, the tones must be memorised naturally for them to be of any use at all. There is no way you will be able to reproduce the associations quickly enough to use them mid-conversation.

I guess that last point was a good lead in to say: I advise you to use it sparcely with tones you have real difficulty memorising naturally.

Anyway, it is a creative idea. Let me know if you can get it to work.

Good luck

p.s. When I first started learning Chinese I remembered 3rd tone from the word 也 (ye3), because when my friend said it to me it sounded like a very snotty/angry child going 'yeaaah... like... whateverrrrr'

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HerrPetersen

Thanks for the replies, wosssaaat, imron and Ole;

I mostly agree to your (wosssaaat) critizism - so without wanting to turn this into a Heisig vs. Matthews thread - it is pretty much my own critizism on Matthews book. (however as shown by the Matthews graduates it seems to be possible to create this kind of mnemonic for around 1000 hanzi)

I will use it when reviewing my anki-deck in the sentence-model (and maybe add a little story in a commentary field) but not for my Heisig-hanzi-model. So it will only be applied to the cards I have problems with (and the problem on the "silk" one - is now forevermore solved -at least, when reviewing :wink: ).

I don't think I want to use ye3 or wo3 for the third tone - I am trying to find an imagery (ye3 is too abstract and making stories about yourself (wo3) just seems a little strange), so I will give the roalercoaster some thought before deciding. (I haven't encountered a problem on the 3rd tone in the last couple of days when reviewing).

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realmayo

I would suggest people -- very different people. They don't need to have any relation to the sound of the tone, that might end up being counterproductive. But you can develop fun caricatures around them.

My first tone is a sportsman, so any "story" in that tone can involve competition, sweat, sports, whatever, in the background, alongside him. My fourth tone is international pop star Coco Lee, who in my stories often plays up as the rich, spoilt, demanding diva, or throws tantrums on stage.

My point is: if you're going to use them often enough, in time they'll feel "right" for that tone, so don't fret about that. But: do make sure they're very different from each other, otherwise, obviously, it's easy to confuse them.

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HerrPetersen

I agree with using people - that's why I chose Buddah and Mr.T - an animal seperates nicely, so that's why I took the meercat(?). Having an non-living-thing for the last one would seperate nicely form the others.

You are right about the imagery not necessarily having to have charachteristics of the tones - but it can't hurt either.

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realmayo
There is no way you will be able to reproduce the associations quickly enough to use them mid-conversation.

In my experience, this misses the point. With new characters, when testing myself with Anki or whatever, I rely on the story and the associations: initially I have to work through the story in my head to remember who's involved (ie which tone); then I simply remember "ah, of course, Coco loves eating rice (before a concert)".

But: after time, I forget the story, I forget who's involved, I just "know" how to write the character, how to pronounce it, and what tone it is. I've learned 2,000 characters this way so far, and for the more mature ones, I can rarely remember what the story was, but I rarely get them wrong!

Also: would be interesting if native speakers of languages which use gender for nouns -- or people learning those languages -- have a similar thing going. I mean, how to remember that "car" is female or "beef" is male?

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realmayo

Meercat: certainly different, but maybe confusing if it involves characters with "animal" components, eg 犭 or 犬....?

EDIT: can you think of anyone that involves magic at all? easy to work magic wands or flying or whatver into stories. or another one: a teacher?

ie 难 [nán] difficult ...

- So and so didn't find it DIFFICULT to catch the bird, she simply pointed her wand and it fell to the ground

... or ...

- So and so told the children that it wouldn't be at all DIFFICULT to learn their multiplication tables, as long as they worked hard.

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wossaaat

Realmayo, you are quite right. Although, this is sort of what I was saying in a roundabout way.

The fact that you can not remember the original associations for the words that are now infused in your mind show that you are obviously no longer relying on this back-story to get you through it.

As I mentioned, tonal personification and visual mnemonic association sounds like a very good method to nudge you into remembering what tone a character is, but you still need to take the memorisation to the next step (i.e. internalisation) as you have, before it can used in fluent conversation.

I was not trying to discourage the method altogether, merely remind people that training wheels need to come off before one can say they are able to ride a bike.

But, as someone who is still pretty much pedaling away on his metaphorical tricycle, I will shut up now.

With regards the gendered nouns, it's another interesting question. I would personally avoid asking a native about them though because in my experience, most people have no idea how they know anything about their own language....

All the best

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HerrPetersen

Yeah magic seems useful, however it collides with the Heisig mnemonics. I just did reviews and the rollercoaster it is (for now) for the 3rd tone.

温暖 wen1nuan3

I associate "warmth" to 暖, so my story goes: I have a rollercoaster which goes up so high, you will feel the warmth (of the sun).

Meercat is ok, because in the Heisig-mnemonics 犭 means "pack of dogs" and means 犬 "little dog".

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renzhe
Also: would be interesting if native speakers of languages which use gender for nouns -- or people learning those languages -- have a similar thing going. I mean, how to remember that "car" is female or "beef" is male?

In many languages, this is a grammatical necessity, and it is very difficult to get this wrong. Also, the native speakers get it through exposure, and generalise to similar nouns automatically.

Of course, this appears opaque to a new learner, just like tones do. Just like tones, though, native speakers don't need mnemonics to learn this.

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daofeishi
Also: would be interesting if native speakers of languages which use gender for nouns -- or people learning those languages -- have a similar thing going. I mean, how to remember that "car" is female or "beef" is male?

My mother tongue is Norwegian, which has has three noun genders. "Gender" is just another grammatical category and has nothing to do with human genders per se. The Norwegian word for the female genitalia is masculine, but only because it happens to fall into the same grammatical category as the word "man" (and "beef," "deadline" and "rectal syringe"), and not because the Norwegian biology is any different from the rest of the world's. The rules that govern which words fall into which category are largely based on phonetics, and you get a feel for them after a while. For natives, there is no conscious memorization or mnemonics-making involved. However, as with any language, even natives make tons of mistakes. I thought "hamster" was neuter for 20 years, but not long ago I found out it's actually masculine. Whod've thunk it :mrgreen:

If you're new to Norwegian, I'd imagine there'd have to be a lot of memorization involved, but after having learnt English and German and studied Chinese for two years, I have stopped believing in the effectiveness of learning grammar/pronounciation/vocab through mnemonics. Sure, it sometimes helps you to recall the odd forgotten word or grammatical pattern, but it simply doesn't help you in a real-life communication situation. You won't have time to connect the dots between the word 茶 and whatever you use to represent the second tone when you want to ask the busy 服务员 what the difference between 菊花茶,乌龙茶 and 花茶 is, especially not if you want to get the pronounciation and sandhi right at the same time. Sure, you can argue that mnemnonics help you to internalize a word the first time you see it, but if you can't use a word without having to conjure up a set of intermediary images, you haven't really learnt how to use it. You have just put it into a mental "learn how to use properly later" category.

I have found that raw exposure works best for me (of course coupled with using the language as much as I can.) Sure, you'll forget that word you just heard over and over several times before you can get it right, but when it sticks, it really sticks. I can't say that mnemonics have made this process any faster for me. On the contrary, not having to struggle with false crossovers and trying to rely on my 语感 instead seems to be much more efficient. I also have similar objections to obsessive flash-card usage, which to me seems like a terribly inefficient way of learning a language. If you put a word on a flash card, you remove it from the context you've seen it in, and you try to learn it as a one-to-one mapping to a word in your own native language. Words don't work like that in general. 方便 in Chinese is not "convenient" in English, even if the semantic meaning is the same.

Edited by daofeishi

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renzhe

Most of the people advocating the use of mnemonics stress that it's just a temporary "hook" meant to keep you from forgetting new words soon after you've learned them. They are supposed to disappear as you are exposed to the word more often, and especially after you've internalised them.

This is very useful with Chinese characters. Sometimes, I will learn a character 10 or 20 times, and every time I learn it, I promptly forget it the next day. For characters like those, the ones that do not 'stick', a mnemonic usually helps. Once it goes into your long-term memory, you usually forget the mnemonic altogether.

As for flashcards, it's not the best way of learning a language, but an SRS-supported flashcard program is probably the most effective way out there to learn vocabulary. You're right, the true meaning of the words comes with enough exposure, but there's nothing wrong in giving yourself a head-start. The useful words will stick and, in my experience, they will stick much faster than just relying on exposure alone.

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crazy-meiguoren

I tend to follow a system similar to what the OP does.

First tone: flat, like saying "ummmm".

Second tone: sounds like a question tone in English, "what?"

Third tone: dip down low and rise up. The best approximation I can make is visualizing rednecks sitting on the front porch saying "yup!"

Fourth tone: falling, forceful, assertive sounding - like saying "no!" I had some advice saying that it might be helpful to stamp your foot while saying this tone, although I'd be too shy to try that in a real conversation.

Neutral tone: light and short.

Food for thought: why is it called a neutral tone, and not a fifth tone?

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daofeishi
Most of the people advocating the use of mnemonics stress that it's just a temporary "hook" meant to keep you from forgetting new words soon after you've learned them. They are supposed to disappear as you are exposed to the word more often, and especially after you've internalised them.

Right, of course, and what I was trying to say is that I'm not sure if that is much more effective in the long run. I don't know if any research has been done on this?

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anonymoose
In many languages, this is a grammatical necessity, and it is very difficult to get this wrong.

What do you mean by 'difficult to get this wrong'? I think for learners, it's very easy to get this wrong. I had an awful time trying to remember the genders of nouns in German, not least because words (such as der, die, das) change depending on the function of the noun in the sentence, and thus the same word is not associated with the same noun all of the time (unlike in French, at least, where le is always le and la is always la).

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renzhe

I meant that it's easy for native speakers. Germans don't need mnemonics to remember the gender, just like I didn't need mnemonics to learn Croatian declensions.

Similarly, native Chinese speakers rarely mess up tones, unlike us learners.

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