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tooironic

The hardest tone in Chinese

Which (Mandarin) tone do you find the hardest to pronounce?  

25 members have voted

  1. 1. Which (Mandarin) tone do you find the hardest to pronounce?

    • 1st tone
      7
    • 2nd tone
      32
    • 3rd tone
      24
    • 4th tone
      12
    • All tones are equally hard
      4
    • Hard? Tones are easy!
      22


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tooironic

Was just curious as to which tone everyone had the most trouble to pronounce correctly?

For me, it's definitely 3rd tone. I think I'll still be having issues with it til the day I die. It's all very easy to pronounce it in a classroom with a nice, obvious up-and-down tone, but in real-life conversation I really struggle sometimes to distinguish it against 2nd tone syllables.

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imron

Added a couple of extra options.

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Don_Horhe

The second tone - it feels kind of awkward sometimes, especially when there's a few of them in a row. As for the third tone, and I think this applies to many, I've started pronouncing it as a half-tone even at the end of utterances, something we were explicitly told not to do, but I hear practically all Chinese doing it.

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wushijiao

I was torn between voting for "all tones are equally hard" and "all tones are equally easy"- but I chose the former. :mrgreen:

For me, it's definitely 3rd tone. I think I'll still be having issues with it til the day I die. It's all very easy to pronounce it in a classroom with a nice, obvious up-and-down tone, but in real-life conversation I really struggle sometimes to distinguish it against 2nd tone syllables.

I think it might be useful to read this blog post by John of Chinesepod in which he explains how 1) the third tone often behaves more like a low tone than a the way it is commonly drawn (see charts). 2) not all tones are of equal importance in speech, and that when a tone happens to be stressed, it behaves more clearly as it does in traditional textbooks.

It might help to know that the 3rd tone, which often looks like a big skateboard ramp when drawn in many textbooks, can be very misleading in real life.

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889

That blog certainly reflects the way I was taught: the third tone has its full low-then-rising value only at the end of a sentence or phrase. Otherwise, it's just the low value. Indeed, one teacher would always re-mark the carats in my Pinyin text to large low dots to emphasize the point.

I always thought everyone was taught that way.

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wushijiao
That blog certainly reflects the way I was taught: the third tone has its full low-then-rising value only at the end of a sentence or phrase. Otherwise, it's just the low value. Indeed, one teacher would always re-mark the carats in my Pinyin text to large low dots to emphasize the point.

Maybe you're just lucky (or had good teachers)! I always saw the "skateboard chart" in books, and in many tapes/CDs made for beginners, they also pronounce the 3rd tone as if it were stressed. Perhaps this could be one reason why some people might choose this tone as the hardest? :conf

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leeyah

For me, tones 2/3/4 have never been much of a problem, in fact they all come out quite naturally, it's the first tone that gives me a hard time, which I can see not many people have problems with. :conf Anyway, the problem is I've got to concentrate real hard on pronouncing it correctly & every time I fail, people don't understand what I'm saying, which can be very embarrassing. When I do pronounce it correctly, no problem at all, except that I get this weird feeling I'm singing, not speaking. :lol: But then mimicking BBC English feels equally unnatural, perhaps even worse... :roll:

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jbradfor

Third tone. I too was taught the "skateboard ramp" pronunciation, which seems impossible in real speech.

Although a native speak might say my answer should be "I'll let you know when I actually make a tone, as opposed to my current tone-less Chinese."

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roddy

I voted for second. Pretty sure I've said this before (or someone else did and I have convinced myself it was me) but I reckon the problem with the second tone for a lot of people is that you're told 'it goes up, like asking a question in English' - and while it does go up, that tends to give you a weak, I'm not sure about this, sound, when it really should be as decisive as the fourth, just in the other direction.

Edit: And incidentally, how come only about a third of voters are posting. Come out, lurkers!

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889

" . . . they also pronounce the 3rd tone as if it were stressed."

It's not a question of stress, but whether there's a rising element following the low element. In a simple phrase like 五块钱 wǔ kuài qián, I was taught, 五 has normal stress but a straight low tone -- sort of the opposite of the first tone, if a little shorter -- with no rising element at the end. Compare it with 好 hǎo in 你好 Nǐ hǎo! where there's clearly a rising element at the end.

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Manoz

I struggle the most with the second, which is probably down to a few of the reasons listed above. I find the first and fourth the easiest.

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Lugubert

Can't vote. 2 and 4 are equally difficult for me.

At least I think so; I can't distinguish them in hearing, so I really don't know if it it's the 2 or 4 that's worse. I have many times been sitting with a passage in a textbook listening to a recording of it and almost jumped: from the text it's obviously a 2 (or 4), but I very clearly hear a 4 (or 2). (I should be more consistent in writing down examples, to perhaps find a trend.)

I have tried speaking to native fellow students, and for example felt like starting from my toes to rise to a nice 2, and the response would too often be "No, not 4".

I suppose I'll have to invest in hardware and software that will enable me to look at graphic representations of my pronunciation and samples listened to. Perhaps I then can find out where my problems are. Suggestions welcomed.

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Hofmann

Third. It changes direction sometimes, is just low sometimes, and changes to rising sometimes.

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889

"I suppose I'll have to invest in hardware and software that will enable me to look at graphic representations of my pronunciation."

SpeakGoodChinese, which does this, has been discussed here before. It's free, so there's no harm trying it. Except to your ego. Unlike those complimenting you every day on your Chinese, SpeakGoodChinese is fussy and honest.

http://speakgoodchinese.org/download.html

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roddy
These people reckon they've cracked it, and are running a free beta.

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Madot

As I think someone else said, the tones are no problem at all IN THE CLASSROOM, word by word. The problem, of course, is when they are combined. The 3rd tone-- in theory-- should actually be easy because of the rule (I've forgotten the linguistic name for it) that when it is followed by another 3rd tone, it becomes a 2nd tone and when followed by anything else, it becomes a half-3rd tone, falling but not rising (but not as 'definite' as a 4th).

The problem is when there are, for example, three 3rd tones in a row. You would expect that the first rises because of the second, but instead, it falls because the second in the series rises because of the third one, so the first acts as if it were in front of a 2nd tone. Apparently, in the mind of a native speaker, the tone 'choices' flash so quickly that they can do this, whereas with us new learners, we're lucky if we can think past the word we're speaking to the very next one. The other problem is that whatever 3rd tones are SUPPOSED to do on their own, i.e. follow the curved shape of the tone mark, when they come at the end of a phrase or sentence, native Chinese speakers don't do that. They seem to do , well, I'm not sure. It sounds to me like a half 3rd tone with almost no rise after it. Someone else said it sounds like just a 'low' tone. Any other ideas?

For me, the hardest combination, however, is a 2nd tone followed by a 1st tone. Yes, the 1st tone DOES get 'sung', but I can't seem to put those two tones together. Anyone have a hint?

Mado :oops:

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889

I like to use place names as a tuning fork; since you hear them often they're easily remembered.

So for the difference between the three-one and two-one patterns, just compare 杭州 Hángzhōu and 福州 Fúzhōu with 广州 Guǎngzhōu and 广西 Guǎngxī.

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muyongshi

I enjoy how much debate there is surrounding the "true form" of the third tone. It cracks me up.

I voted number 2 in general. Honestly though, I feel they are all "relatively" easy. I'm not saying my tones are perfect but it is not so much the saying them, individually or even in sentences but the remembering them in the frame of conversation. I can usually look at character and get the tone right, I'd say 75% of the time, but when in conversation, I often "forget" the tone.

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Lugubert

Thanks, 889 (#14), roddy (#15)!

It seems that I'll be busy until I leave for Beijing on Oct 2...

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Madot

Muyongshi,

I'm sure we are all very happy that you find the tones so easy that the discussion of other students who are trying to master the intricacies of 3rd tone 'cracks you up', but I think that is a rather offensive and patronising attitude. Fortunately, it is one which is rarely encountered here on the Forums. Most people are very helpful and understanding of student questions, difficulties, etc.

Mado

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