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suMMit

When you dont know the tones

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suMMit

It drives me crazy that i always have words that i know, but i dont "know". Basically i dont know the tones, i can understand them, but not use them. There always seem to be words like this. I learn them and then new ones crop up. Yesterday, for example, it was Qinghua university and Liaoning. 

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大块头

Your vocabulary will always have active and passive subsets, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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DavyJonesLocker

Just part of learning chinese, no short cuts. Seems like it's not fashionable to engage in old style repetitive learning. Bashing through words over and over , again and again until they stick cannot be dispenses with in my opinion

Each to their own of course.

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Dawei3

Even though I "learn" the phonetics & tones of a word simultaneously, I find I generally learn the phonetics first.  Also, when I start to forget a word, I usually forget the tones 1st, phonetics 2nd.  I think it's just my Western brain. 

 

For Chinese, phonetics & tone are usually integrally linked.  I've had situations where I said the correct phonetics, but the wrong tone (e.g., I said 滑雪  but meant 化学).  From the context, I would have thought it was obvious I got my tones wrong and I meant 化学.   However, none of my friends imagined I got my tones wrong and instead they debated 滑雪 until one asked me in English about it.  At that time, 化学 was a new word for me, so I remembered its phonetics, not its tones.

 

An Italian woman I know whose major was Chinese in college told me that Chinese isn't an intuitive language.  I didn't get a chance to ask her what she meant.  I've never heard this before.  In the example above, I would have thought that it's intuitive that i got my tones wrong, but I also recognize this is a Western view (i.e., that tones are an "extra" to words).  So the fact that my friends didn't figure out my mistake doesn't indicate they aren't intuitive.  

 

I know Americans who aren't very intuitive either (and there are many times when a foreign friend said an English word that I couldn't figure out).  If anyone else has heard that Chinese isn't an intuitive language, it would be interesting to hear what you learned. 

 

 

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anonymoose
4 hours ago, 大块头 said:

Your vocabulary will always have an active and passive subsets, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Right, but common words such as Qinghua Daxue and Liaoning should be part of anyone's active subset, should they wish to be competent in Chinese. I do note that suMMit claims to be at an elementary level though, so probably par for the course at this level.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Bashing through words over and over , again and again until they stick cannot be dispenses with in my opinion

 

I think there's something to be said for this. I'm sure some people are going to say that the tone should be learnt as an integral part of the word, but that doesn't help if you learn words with tones, but forget the tones quicker than the rest, which I'm sure is the case for most learners (or at least those with non-tonal native languages). You just have to keep revising until both stick.

 

4 hours ago, suMMit said:

It drives me crazy that i always have words that i know, but i dont "know". Basically i dont know the tones, i can understand them, but not use them.

 

I think this is normal. As you become more experienced in Chinese, the vocabulary you "know" will expand, but this phenomenon will still exist at the periphery of your knowledge. Just yesterday I used the word 山魈 and knew that this was pronounced shanxiao, but could not remember the tone for xiao.

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DavyJonesLocker

The problem I find is that once you past beginner stage your oral vocabulary set is far far   less that your reading one so in reality the vast majority of words you rarely speak , hence no oral  practice. When you do need to speak them, the tone is too hard to recall.

 

I do find when using an SRS system should one speak the word out aloud it is of great benefit. 

 

However it requires you to be at home. It would look a tad odd speaking chinese out loud on the subway haha

Even when doing them at home I run out of momentum within about 30 words. 

 

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roddy

If you can't speak them out loud, then just internally vocalising them is a step in the right direction. 

 

At an elementary level, I think it's probably very common to be forgetting tones more than the 'base' pronunciation. It's a new type of info and it takes a while (years for, ahem, some of us) to realise that the tones need to be integral to the vocab item. If you don't stop and think 'hmmmm, is 北 a b or a sound, you shouldn´t be stopping to think if it´s a first or a third tone either. 

 

Never shift a word to a ´known´ pile if the tone isn't locked in tight. 

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Wurstmann
1 hour ago, roddy said:

Never shift a word to a ´known´ pile if the tone isn't locked in tight.

 

This. Not knowing the tone is kinda like not knowing the vowel of an English word.

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道艺黄帝

I said this in another thread, but I'll say it here too: my most effective suggestion is to speak with children (5-8岁). They are held to strict standards in school (in my experience) and will have no idea what you're saying if it isn't 标准. 

 

I'm not sure what would make Chinese unintuitive. I've found it easier to learn the more I transfer to ltm because the language is like legos that can be rearranged to build new words

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Mijin
10 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

I've had situations where I said the correct phonetics, but the wrong tone (e.g., I said 滑雪  but meant 化学).  From the context, I would have thought it was obvious I got my tones wrong and I meant 化学.   However, none of my friends imagined I got my tones wrong and instead they debated 滑雪 until one asked me in English about it.  At that time, 化学 was a new word for me, so I remembered its phonetics, not its tones.

 

I've noticed that to native Chinese speakers the tone is probably more important than the phoneme. 

e.g. In a restaurant, a foreign girl raised her hand and said "mai3dan4", very clearly pronouncing the second syllable incorrectly as a falling tone, but to me of course it was obvious what she meant. And the fuwuyuan replied I think (sadly I don't remember the exact word) "leng3dan4?!"

 

For the OP, the only thing I can add to what has been said here is to test whether you remember tones.

What I mean is, when I need to learn a new vocabulary list, I add the new words as a set in Pleco, and test myself. (I recommend testing yourself immediately, as well as days later: trying to recall words that you only just studied minutes ago really helps squeezing those words into your brain in the first place IME).
And when I test myself, I must get the all the tones and phonemes right, no exceptions. A 成语 where I knew all the characters and pinyin and just said one of the four tones wrong? Mark it wrong.
My Chinese has plenty of problems but not remembering what the tones are for a given word I wouldn't consider to be one of them -- it rarely happens.

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mungouk

Regarding learning tones specifically, what made a big difference for me was using flashcard decks that have native-speaker audio on them.

 

I was using memrise decks up to HSK 3 but then found that the user-generated decks in the levels after that just have too many errors, and I switched to StickyStudy. The situation might be different by now (in the last year or so).   Plus the amount of vocab doubles with each HSK level, so I made my own StickyStudy decks split by chapter in the official textbook — which is still around 30 new words in each chapter.  But compared to trying to learn a deck with 600 new words in it, this is much more manageable. 

 

In any case, I found that being able to hear the examples "in my mind's ear" helped me enormously with learning the vocabulary... especially with the tones.

 

 

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ChTTay
12 hours ago, 道艺黄帝 said:

They are held to strict standards in school (in my experience) and will have no idea what you're saying if it isn't 标准. 

It’s just they got home to grandma those standards go out the window 🤣

 

To the OP, how often do you or did you do Pinyin drills? My tutor when I first started learning was a real stickler for pinyin drills. I think it helped my pronunciation and ability to memorise the tones in the long run though. 

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imron
5 hours ago, mungouk said:

In any case, I found that being able to hear the examples "in my mind's ear" helped me enormously with learning the vocabulary... especially with the tones.

I think it is really important to develop this skill - the ability to think of, and hear in your mind any sound in Mandarin and to be able to clearly differentiate (in your mind's ears) the different sounds and different tones, building a model in your mind where different tone = different sound.

 

Once you can do that, remembering the tones becomes simple because you don't need to remember the tone, you just remember the complete sound (which includes the tone).

 

Even if you think you don't have the ability to remember sounds like this, that's probably not true.  I'm sure if you try you can think of and hear "Happy Birthday", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or the voice of your favourite TV/movie character in your head, and that's because you've heard them over and over and over again.  You need to do the same with the sounds of Mandarin until they are ingrained enough in your mind that you can hear them at will.

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suMMit

After these replies, ive been thinking more about when this happens. So it actually seems to be mainly words that i have not come across in my learning material but rather by 1. coming across in the chinese written in pinyin but no tone marks(ie street signs)  2. other foriegners just saying them in english like “i lived in a small town in liaoning” 3. words i picked up before properly studying (these ive mostly learned now).  4. Words that ive heard several times from native speakers but always said very quickly

It also seems to be a lot of proper names. 

Words that ive learned from proper study and forgot i seem to have mostly forgotten completely phoneme and tone.

*A different problem occurs sometimes where i know the tone but say it wrong like 明年 said with tge tones of 明天 , and i would guess its just because i say tomorow very frequently, but not next year.

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suMMit

Another situation, Once in a while I run into trouble with sentences like 你国庆节怎么过 having to hesitate thinking about the tone on the first GUO, the second one is okay because I've already go the momentum going.  same with the YI in  一直往前走 I find myself hesitating for a moment on whether the yi is 4th tone or otherwise. 

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DavyJonesLocker
3 hours ago, imron said:

Even if you think you don't have the ability to remember sounds like this, that's probably not true.  I'm sure if you try you can think of and hear "Happy Birthday", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

 

Now multiple that by several thousands and it becomes a different ball game 😀

 

I think though it's nigh on impossible for a non native speaker to try get to this intuitive level. My brain just doesn't seem naturally associate the two (tone and pinyin) as one inextricably linked element.  Chinese have heard this since birth with no alternative so it's just not an issue. Perhaps you all find it much easier than me.

 

Indeed it's the best way to study. I.e ensure tone is integral to the pinyin  but for some people it will just be skill that will never come naturally and will require  many years of effort and drilling

Also it's always too tempting to move on and "cover  ground" as evident with the constant  talk about passing HSK X in a rapid period of time* or adding ten words a day into flashcards. I highly doubt hardly anyone is getting 3600 words and all tones correct within one year of study.

 

Interesting question: For those who do flashcards are you marking a card as a "pass "  if you got the pinyin and meaning right, but incorrect tone?

 

*OK I know it doesn't test speaking but it's still used as a measure of around Chinese ability 

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imron
1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Now multiple that by several thousands and it becomes a different ball game

Not really, because they all follow a pattern and once you've got the pattern down you can apply it to any sound you like.

 

For example, imagine a movie character with a distinct voice such as Darth Vader or Yoda, or some other character whose voice you can hear in your head if you wanted.  Once you know their voice pattern, not only can you hear their voice in your head, you can also 'hear' them say things they have never said in any movie by applying that pattern to any combination of words you like, even though the potential number of combination of all words is likely in the billions.  Or, tying it back to Happy Birthday:

 

Happy Birthday to you

You belong in a zoo

You look like a monkey

And you smell like one too

 

It's completely different words, but you can apply the "sound" of the song to those words in your head, even if you've never heard it with those words before.

 

Same with tones.  Once you have internalized the different tones as different sounds on a handful of mandarin sounds, you can then apply that across all sounds without much effort.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

I think though it's nigh on impossible for a non native speaker to try get to this intuitive level.

As a non-native speaker who has done this, and seen others do this, I don't think it's impossible, in fact, I think it's a very trainable skill.  You might not get to exactly the same level of this as a native speaker, but you can to a good enough level for it to be useful.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

My brain just doesn't seem naturally associate the two

Correct. Your brain won't do it naturally, (mine didn't either) and that's why you need to train it.   You'll need to force yourself to accept that different tones are different sounds, and call yourself out on it if you ever see yourself treating them as distinct components (see further comments below).

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Chinese have heard this since birth with no alternative so it's just not an issue.

Right, and the problem lies because an alternative is available to you, and so despite the alternative being inferior, you use it because it has a lower barrier to entry.  That's a choice that can be changed however.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

it will just be skill that will never come naturally and will require  many years of effort and drilling

I would say months rather than years, but yes, it requires conscious effort over a sustained period of time.  You'll be rewarded handsomely for that effort though because it will greatly simplify your learning.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Perhaps you all find it much easier than me.

No.  It was a difficult skill that I had to consciously train for a long period of time before it got easy.

 

1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Interesting question: For those who do flashcards are you marking a card as a "pass "  if you got the pinyin and meaning right, but incorrect tone?

No.  I would never "pass" a card that I got incorrect.  Doing that will just internalize errors.

 

Side note: when you say "the pinyin and meaning right, but incorrect tone" you are reinforcing the concept that tones and pinyin are separate things.  And yes, it will be nigh on impossible to see tones as part of the sound if you continually treat them as different.  There is no "got the pinyin right, but got the incorrect tone", that is called "getting the pinyin wrong".

 

When you find yourself getting a card wrong like this, you shouldn't tell yourself "I got the sound right, but the tone wrong" (this reinforces an incorrect mental model of the Chinese language), rather you should tell yourself "I got the sound wrong" (this reinforces the correct mental model) and deal with it accordingly.

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suMMit

I like the Twinkle twinkle little star idea. I'm not too bad at doing it and I've been practicing it the last couple hours as I do other things. Good exercise.

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889

I think I've made these points before, but so what:

 

"For example, imagine a movie character with a distinct voice such as Darth Vader or Yoda."

 

It's really really useful if you can find a Chinese tutor who has a distinctive memorable voice you feel comfortable imitating. Listen to an actor like 葛优: you can never forget the voice.

 

"Once you have internalized the different tones as different sounds on a handful of mandarin sounds, you can then apply that across all sounds without much effort."

 

Do this in pairs, and place names are the perfect models since you hear them all the time. Even if you've been in China only a few months, your ears should hurt if you try to say 中国 北京 上海 西安 all the same. But try, since saying things wrong is one way to start saying things right: zhong1guo1, bei1jing1, shang1hai1: OUCH! But xi1an1: AH!

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imron
5 hours ago, 889 said:

But try, since saying things wrong is one way to start saying things right: zhong1guo1, bei1jing1, shang1hai1:

This is a great idea!

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