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Tone mistakes that beginner - intermediate learners make


suMMit
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There was a thread recently about tone mistakes that advanced/near native level speakers might make. What about Beginner/Elementary/Intermediate learners? What tone mistakes do you make / did you make at those lower levels. I came across a sentence that illustrates my tone problems:

 

那么,麻烦你请他给我回电话,好吗?nàme, máfan nǐ qǐng tā gěi wǒ huí diànhuà, hǎo ma?

 

There are multiple tone sandhi here, i have said 麻烦你 with ni having the 3rd tone so many times that it feels awkward to apply the sandhi to it. Gei still gives me a headache as i dont always automatically(though becoming more so) apply 3rd or 2nd tone since it is always changing. Hui - i think because both 会 and 回 are so common, i sometimes say the wrong one - or in this case, my mind might have thought 会给你打电话, also i only just learned this usage as "to return a call"。 Then we have 好吗, when falling directly after 电话 the first time through i accidentally said 电话号码。

 

I don't have this much trouble with that many sentences, but this one perfectly illustrates my where i make tone mistakes.

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Spelling wrong 3+2 tone combinations is the one of the most common mistakes because unfortunately many teachers are not aware of the third tone changes. Mostly, they teach you that the third tone is a 214 and that's all, but actually it changes to 21 quite often. You should try recording yourself reading the following words and then comparing them with a native's pronunciation:

 

好人 21-35

女人 21-35

取钱 21-35

美国人 21-35-35

普通话 21-55-51

表演者 35-35-214

 

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3 hours ago, Dlezcano said:

because unfortunately many teachers are not aware of the third tone changes

 

I'm actually shocked at how true this seems to be. On one of our YouTube videos recently, Ash pronounced 錦 as a half-third tone, and a few commenters piled up on him saying it was wrong. Despite us linking to videos and articles about the subject, and even citing academic papers, these commenters refused to believe that such a thing existed, because their teachers had never told them about it and their textbooks didn't mention it. They actually got so angry with us that I ended up having to ban them from commenting on our channel. I ended up making a video about the third tone change rules, not for them (because they'll never believe it) but for others who may not have been aware.

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7 hours ago, OneEye said:

and a few commenters piled up on him saying it was wrong.

 

Are those Chinese natives? I would assume all they needed to do was to say the word in their head to realise you are correct.

 

10 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Try not to be too dogmatic about following the pinyin. Rather shadow and chorus more following a native speaker. 

 

I remember you recommended this before. I think this is good advice, but not necessarily good advice for beginners. Picking up tones while listening to natives is not so easy. 

 

 

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11 hours ago, suMMit said:

What tone mistakes do you make / did you make at those lower levels. 

 

There are several threads on this if you google the forums. 

 

Some examples included:

a) inconsistent level of the first tone (it should always be the same level e.g. with  咖啡 (kāfēi) and 今天 (jīn tiān) some may be inclined to say jīn at a higher pitch, because of the natural tendency to say "i" sounds higher)

b) too flat 4th tone: the 4th tone should fall sharply rather than gradually

c) as discussed above wrong 3rd tone sandhi and/or saying 214 instead of 21 unless the third tone comes at the end.

d) Using always the same level for 5th tone. The pitch of the 5th tone actually varies depending on the tone that precedes it. 

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56 minutes ago, Jan Finster said:

Are those Chinese natives? I would assume all they needed to do was to say the word in their head to realise you are correct.

 

 

No, beginning level learners. It was pretty baffling, honestly. One guy in particular got angrier with every comment. The reasoning was, "You learned in Taipei, and probably 20 years ago. If you knew what was currently being taught in beginners' courses in Beijing, you'd know you were wrong." No number of links or citations, or even other commenters telling him he was mistaken, could change his mind.  We finally said he should simply ask his teacher to say "我是" for him, and it would put the matter to rest. He exploded, dropped a bunch of f-bombs, and we banned him. Really bizarre.

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4 minutes ago, OneEye said:

No, beginning level learners. It was pretty baffling, honestly. 

One thing that unexpectedly helped me learn Chinese was learning linguistics from John McWhorter (Columbia U).  He has a series of superb courses from the Teaching company.  I had gotten his courses just because I was interested in the topic, but what he did for me was help me to understand that languages are "messy."  Languages lack the tight grammar & other rules that many people think exist.  That when people meet him and learn that he's a linguist, they might say "I did I say that correctly?"   Yet, he notes linguists are generally not grammar nazi's because they know how much & how rapidly languages change. 

 

He gives his own experience:  When he was born in the 1960s in Philadelphia, he was taught in school to say he was born "at Philadelphia."  Now we say "in Philadelphia."  Why did this change happen?  It just did.  Languages change like this.  Knowing this helped me learn Chinese because I don't expect it to follow exact rules or to necessarily be logical.  

 

It sounds like the people above can't accept that there are exceptions to what they've learned.  In addition, by focusing only on text-book language, they'll likely struggle with "real world Chinese."  For an excellent exploration of this, check out Mandarin corner:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH213QEckeg  In particular, at 25:10, she covers some of the common short-cut people use when saying common things, e.g., often 不知道 zhi dao becomes bu ri rao or 多少 duo shao becomes duo ao.  While this video doesn't cover tone changes, it well illustrates how "messy" day-to-day Chinese is.   (as is day-to-day English).   (the whole video is fascinating)

 

The video clips in this video are actually from street interviews she did on other topics.  Hence, the examples are "real world" chinese.  I'd like to see her do the same with tones.  

 

 

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52 minutes ago, Dawei3 said:

While this video doesn't cover tone changes, it well illustrates how "messy" day-to-day Chinese is.   (as is day-to-day English).   (the whole video is fascinating)

It can seem messy, but there are often rules there. This might be interesting to you, if it's new, along with the four specific pages on types of phonological rule (see lower down). 

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On 6/11/2020 at 8:53 AM, Dawei3 said:

In addition, by focusing only on text-book language, they'll likely struggle with "real world Chinese."  For an excellent exploration of this, check out Mandarin corner:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH213QEckeg  ...  While this video doesn't cover tone changes, it well illustrates how "messy" day-to-day Chinese is. 

 

What a great video! Important stuff for sure. And I cannot help but admire her approach to teaching. 

 

Like you, I studied a couple of online linguistics courses by Professor McWhorter several years ago. They had lots of useful and intelligent ways to approach "real, everyday speech" (As distinguished from "correct classroom speech.") A textbook is never the last word in how street-level communication actually works. (Not to downplay its importance as a good starting place, however.) He stresses how spoken language develops first (not written language.) He explains lots of subsequent shifts that explains some of the examples given in the above video. 

 

The Teaching Company still has four or five of his courses listed. He's a very clear and lively teacher: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/story-of-human-language.html 

 

My own experience in learning vernacular Chinese was to first learn it the "proper" way as well as I could from my teachers, then "get the sharp corners and rough edges knocked off" by lots and lots of informal talking with natives. My own personal gold standard was always trying to make what I said "first-pass understandable" by locals. 

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