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The hardest tone in Chinese


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

26 members have voted

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

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

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heheheh :)

I can certainly hear a slightly perceptable lowering of the tone from the start to the end of bei3 in that sentence, so yes, in that instance you're right.

I just listened to the HSK level 4 sample exam, and the woman at about .31 seconds in says "da4jia1hao3", and the hao3, as far as I'm concerned, neither dips from the start to the end, neither does it raise at the end.

The man, on the other hand, at around .37 also says "da4jia1hao3", and there is a certain perceptable raise at the end of the hao3.

There are variants on this theme- as the second time she says "da4jia1hao3" there is a slight raise in the hao3 pronunciation at the end.

My personal experience of the third tone is that it stays mainly low and neither falls at the start to a lowest tone, nor does it raise at the ends in a lot of cases.

I think that the official view is different, and the lowering/raising tone is taught to all students. I also think that it probably has it's regional differences.

However, I would say that if you can hear this phenomenon throughout even the HSK ting1li4 kao3shi4 test, then I'm pretty confident that saying the third tone as a consistant low flat tone is not only acceptable to a listener, but it's also acceptable as a pronunciation of this tone as a speaker. The HSK board would not hire people whose tones were wrong or out, or whose pronunciation was bad.

Go ahead, and pronounce the third tone in a canonical way, or try to dip it from the start to the end, but I think you're making a rod for your own back, as this will be more difficult to pronounce, IMO, than a low flat tone.

I can go through the whole test and point out every instance of a lowering/ raising, lowering to low, and low flat if you want, but I think it would be a waste of time. :)

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I'm having a hard time with the "low, flat, level" tone description.

The third tone in the middle of a word is something low, but it's so quick that it's impossible to say that it's level. First tone is level, and very clearly so. If you pronounce the first tone at a lower pitch, it sounds nothing like a third tone, anywhere in the sentence.

Like Altair, I also feel that the third tone tends to increase in volume towards the "dip". Just pronouncing a level sound seems totally awkward.

But there's not way to know for sure without a detail spectral analysis or whatnot. I imagine that imagination plays a large role in interpreting all of this.

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Very true renzhe..

I actually think of the third tone as a low blunted tone, where the speaker makes the whole sound in a shorter time than the first tone. Yes, between words it's so fast that it's hard to hear an exact tone, and trying to describe it, as you suggested, is probably a bit useless.

Of course, if you lower the first tone down, then, because you're lowering the tone (hahaha), it's not a first anymore, so no, it wouldn't sound like a third tone either-- since IMO, it would be longer.

It's a shame we cant have a chat in Chinese.. then we'd know how each other actually speak these tones, and be able to listen for the differences. I'm also pretty sure that my Chinese would sound a bit different from yours, due to my accent, but my accent simply copies the native speakers I know.

Either way.. yes, using words to describe sounds is always fraught with difficulty! :blink:

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Although I hear full 3rd tones here and there it always gives me that 北京 feeling which I don't like to be honest. Which is not to say that it's only used in 北京 as people all over mainland like to do it, at least over here in Shanghai it's not rare.

I watch a lot of Taiwanese drama and can confirm that full 3rd tone is very rare there, it's only used by characters that are supposed to sound official.

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I mainly hear Singaporean and Taiwanese Mandarin, so that's why I perceive the rise at the end of the 3rd tone to be rare. I'm neutral on whether there's a dip; in any case, the difference strikes me as being minimal in normal speech, and small when considered against other forms of regional and private variation.

Singing karaoke in mainland-type Mandarin sounds funny, as I discovered the other day.

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Yep, I think the 3rd tone is just another example of how textbook Mandarin is only spoken by -- I would guess -- a very small minority of Chinese people. It's interesting foreign learners aren't aware of how it's spoken by a huge chunk of the population. I recently got caught out by my first exposure to some moderate 儿化 -- I hadn't realised just how much difference it makes....

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There probably is an accent difference as well then, since most people can pretty definately pin my accent as Taiwanese right away. :lol:

That said, as I mentioned before, even the HSK samples vary wildly with people pronouncing third tone with a dip and rise, not pronouncing it this way, and going back again later.. even in the same sentences.

So, as has been mentioned before, tones are an approximation, so just as long as I'm completely understood, I dont mind. I especially dont mind if I sound like I learned from an accented person because I'm quite happy about that anyway.

The erhua does make a big difference too, I agree, and some phrases are so rarely used in Taiwan that they really are not understandable- for example, I dont think I've ever heard anyone say mingbai in Taiwan, I've also never heard anyone say yihuier or yi dahuoer.. without the knowledge of these phrases, one can get very mixed up! :)

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  • 6 months later...

Definitely the second and third tone. I can always remember the words that have two first or fourth tones because it is so easy for me to pronounce them. By far, the hardest thing for me about tones that I still haven't got over is the weird inflections on second/third in the middle of a sentence...it just feels so awkward for use it that way, seeing as native English speakers only use upward inflections at the end of a sentence.

Plus, sometimes even when I'm trying to remember correct tones, there's tone sandhi to deal with! I have to remember that when there's two third tones, one turns into second and it just screws me up! Not to mention actually memorizing tones for all the words I've learned in the first place.

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Are you in the Carolinas or something? There are plenty of downward inflections at the end of sentences in my speech and other people around me, at least.

Sorry, I meant that native English speakers make upward inflections at the end of questions and not sentences as a whole ^^;

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Ah, OK. I have this impression that region of the US doesn't care if it's a question lots of the time, so I figured you may be there and just got used to it or something. There was a comedian who did a routine about it, saying he never knew if they were making a statement or asking a question, but I don't remember who it was.

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  • 6 months later...

Not my opinion, just info:

In one session I read about a hundred sentences to a native Chinese language-exchange partner (to show her where I stood).

I can't know how strict she really was, but the only tone she corrected me on was a 25: 鼻子 (bi2zi5, nose), and even after I thought I was obeying her it took several tries. I was starting the 2 too low.

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  • 1 year later...

Are there only eight of us struggling with the forth tone? I was rather unhelpfully taught to pronounce it like I was angrily reprimanding someone (the classic "ma4!"). The result is that I just pronounce the forth tone more loudly than the rest, whilst wearing an angry expression.

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