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Software or Apps for Learning Pinyin/Tones

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I'm a brand new learner of Mandarin Chinese. I'm already conversational in Japanese, but it seems unlikely to help me at all with speaking/listening in Chinese. It seems like before anything else, it's essential that I understand pinyin and tones. Is simply using a pinyin and tone chart, and just repeating the sounds/tones over and over again, a good way to get started? https://www.yoyochinese.com/chinese-learning-tools/Mandarin-Chinese-pronunciation-lesson/pinyin-chart-table


Also, I'm looking for a software or app that allows me to record my voice and compare it with a native speaker's correct tone. Does anybody have good recommendations for this? 

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I'm also fluent in Japanese and have studied Chinese for a couple of years now.
I agree that getting the tones and pronunciation down should be the first priority with Chinese and personally I found the Chinese pronunciation to be the most difficult part of the language so far. Pinyin is helpful in the beginning, but I moved to characters as soon as I was comfortable with the tones and now I use pinyin only to check the pronunciations of unknown characters. Knowing Japanese is a great advantage here!

When studying pronunciation, I created an anki deck for myself with each Chinese sound along with a recording, pinyin and some related information.
A year ago I got permission from the guys at Mandarin Blueprint to use their recordings in the deck and recreated it with multiple native recordings for each sound in order to publish it. I also asked a few people to give me feedback on it but they never got back to me so I had forgotten the project until now. If you are interested, please give me an email address where I can send a download link and please also give me some feedback on it. I'll publish it in Anki web at some point.


The license is basically, you may use it but the rights to the audio files belong to their owners and using them somewhere else requires permission from them and Mandarin Blueprint required a link to their site on every card that uses their audio.

The deck has one note for about 1200 possible mandarin sounds. It is divided into four parts.

"1. Pronunciation Practice" shows a pinyin syllable and plays the audio from 1 to 3 different native speakers. All of the cards have audio from Liang Sihao from italki and most of them have audio from Annie and Jerry from MB too. Each card also shows how many of the 6000 most used characters use that sound and up to 5 most frequent ones of those. I have also added pictures showing the correct tongue position for the few difficult initials.

"2. Pinyin Recognition Practice" plays the native sound from the three teachers and waits for the student to type in the pinyin using the tone numbers. It then shows if the input was correct or not.

"3. Tone Pair Pronunciation Practice" works the same as number 1 but it has few examples of each possible tone pair combination using audio from Mandarin Blueprint.

"4. Tone Pair Pinyin Recognition Practice" works the same as number 2 but with the tone pairs.

I think Anki also has some "record your own voice" feature, but I haven't used it.

The main ways I think the deck can be used is by first studying a course like MB Pronunciation Course and then using this deck to practice recognizing the syllables. There is research that shows that a person can learn to discern the mandarin tones in a few weeks with practice and even more interesting is that research also shows that learning to recognize the tones also transfers to being able to produce them! Immediate feedback is also the best way to train yourself to hear the tones and the differences between the different syllables. The original idea with the deck is to train to hear each syllable as a whole unit rather than treat the initial-final combination and the tones separately.

With a tutor I would recommend first suspending all cards, then studying a set of sounds with the tutor, and then unsuspending the studied sounds and practicing them with the deck before studying another set of sounds with the tutor the next time.

Each card also has labels to mark the syllable and the tone used so that it is easy to find the specific syllables and/or tones you want to concentrate on.

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I also looked into the research about learning tones at some point and an interesting point was that the ability to recognize the tones seems to largely transfer also to producing them. Sadly I couldn't find the research article now... It seems that the brain of a person, who does not speak any tonal language, isn't wired to recognize them, but only weeks after beginning to drill them, changes in brain could be observed. And the best way to train the brain for recognizing the tones is to get frequent repeated exposure.


So what I did and what I also recommend, is to heavily concentrate on drilling recognizing the tones first with syllables in isolation and then with tone pairs until you can consistently recognize them before beginning to practice producing them. According to what I've read, that should be the quickest path. I also recommend the "Say it right series" by Chinesepod and/or the pinyin/pronunciation course offered by Mandarin Blueprint, and I would accompany the recognition practice with a native mandarin speaker from for example italki to tell you if you are pronouncing them right.

Using Anki is also great because instead of just listening and repeating from the pinyin chart it will allow you to focus on the difficult sounds while pushing the easy ones quickly along in the queue. And if something wasn't properly learned after all, it will soon come back to haunt you. :)

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On 1/23/2021 at 5:37 PM, Xadma said:

It seems like before anything else, it's essential that I understand pinyin and tones


I am also a new learner since last year, I wish I could go back and tell myself all the things that would have saved me time, working out myself!


Since you're already familiar with yoyo, you may have seen this set of youtubes, but if not, worth a watch. I  wish I had seen this right at the beginning!


It's a set of 40 short films to get you started with tones and Pinyin.






Also, hearing native speakers speak is very important. Of course at first, it's completely impossible to understand if you are starting from scratch,.

but what I would do if I were to start again, is find some speaking programmes on youtube, and click on the settings and slow it down to 50% (or whatever) and you will hear the tones much clearer.


All the best, it's really enjoyable to learn, and if you've already learned Japanese to a reasonable level, you already know roughly how difficult it is.


Also, I would tell myself, even though you are only learning the pinyin, do try and just look at the characters too, so when you start learning them, you'll be familiar with many.



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Leslie Frank


On 1/23/2021 at 9:37 AM, Xadma said:

I'm looking for a software or app that allows me to record my voice and compare it with a native speaker's correct tone. Does anybody have good recommendations for this? 


there's an app, speechling, that was discussed on this forum a year or so ago:



you can do recordings and hear it compared to a native's (female or male--your choice).



On 1/23/2021 at 9:37 AM, Xadma said:

Is simply using a pinyin and tone chart, and just repeating the sounds/tones over and over again, a good way to get started?


sure, but i think your idea of making recordings and comparing with a native speaker is a good idea because we don't really hear what we sound like until the actual recording and then you'll either be pleasantly surprised and happy with how well you sound or shocked with the horror of what you sound like (or maybe somewhere in between).


best of luck...

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