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Kong Junrui

How could I get better at tones?

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Desmond

I was just thinking about that today, how do I remember what I remember? And in what way do I remember tones, phonemes, etc?

How do I remember the difference between the "n" sound and the "ng" sound in English? I 'just do'. So I know that's one possibility with Chinese. However, I used to normally learn each word with the tone, so that's more artificial. Now... it's harder to analyze.. if I hear a new word on tv for example, like "zheng1".... I know it's first tone, but I don't necessarily memorize that... I don't say "zheng.... one" in my mind. I guess it's more like the "n" "ng" example, where I just kind of memorize it as-is. Like I guess now my brain is able to see the difference and accept it.

So to sum up, looking back when I first started learning Chinese, I had to memorize "ok this is zheng, and it's first tone" but now I just memorize the sound as it is heard. And it's more complicated than that, because I can see my brain memorizing chinese sentence tones as well.

One interesting thing I noticed is comparing my abilities at analyzing tones with a native speaker. When someone asked this person "fan4? what tone is that?", the speaker would quietly say to themself "fan1, fan2, fan3, fan4.... fourth tone!". What they were essentially doing was saying all four tones to find the one that matched, and then when they did, said it out loud. Yet if someone asks me that exact question, I instantly pop out with "fourth". That signifies to me that I mostly likely still do memorize the tonal number with the word.

One more interesting thing.... I hate hate hate learning a word without a tone. It feels incomplete to me (not in the "I'm so picky" way but it actually feels like I'm lacking info that I need). I would easily equate this to someone saying "those things a plane uses to fly, they're called either "wins" or "wings", not sure if it's 'n' or 'ng'" So in Chinese, it would bother me cause it feels like I have 4 words floating in my mind until I can determine which it is....

One last point: french has a similar thing, with their "le" or "la" prefix to every noun. Oddly enough, when I studied french, I didn't care at all whether something was le or la... I didn't memorize words with one or the other, and it didn't bother me if I didn't know which it was.... yet with Chinese, I'm the opposite! Maybe I just don't respect genders in languages! (which is 100% true, I really don't :mrgreen: ). Sorry French, I otherwise love you!

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Desmond

Wow, this topic is pulling out the longest posts from me ever!

I just wanted to add onto pronunciation/pinyin that Ferno was asking about.

I've always been super meticulous about pronunciation (even with French), and so, like tones, in the beginning I had to memorize how to say things (ie. if it sounds like a J and is followed by an "ooo" sound, then it's the curled up tongue, and spelled "zhu" but if it sounds like a J and is followed by an "eeee" sound, then it's a flat tongue and spelled "ji").

And just like tones, now I've more or less got them down, enough such that when I heard a word, it just kinda goes in the memory (just like if I learned a new English word.... it just kinda goes into the memory without me having to memorize how it's spelled for me to pronounce it).

I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this subject, Ferno and anyone else who has something to add!

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Ferno

yes i also noticed the thing about native speakers just going through every tone. Even Cantonese people with mandarin as a second language do this for some reason.

as per me, over time the tone gets incorporated into the pronounciation of a word (ie shuo (speak) is always high level and I dont have to think too much about it, bu4 changing to bu2 is tricky though :o ) but if I want to learn a word I have to visualize the pinyin + the tone.

i do not understand your "n" and "ng" comparison, those are completely different sounds. Tones are much more arbitrary and even Chinese people obviously see tones as just minor variations in words, as shown by "si4" (four) being an unlucky number because of "si3" meaning "die" even though it's a completely different tone.

yeah French is a European language so you can get away with grammar mistakes, etc.. with Chinese thankfully there are no masculine/feminine/neutral or inflections (I would go crazy if there were!!) but[/i] because Chinese is so ambigious there is little redundancy and little room for mistakes - if you screw something up you might not be understood at all. Of course for native speakers this isn't a problem because it is all natural for them...

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kudra

Tones are much more arbitrary and even Chinese people obviously see tones as just minor variations in words' date=' as shown by "si4" (four) being an unlucky number because of "si3" meaning "die" even though it's a completely different tone.

[/quote']

Have you asked native speakers about this? I think you may be jumping to conclusions based on this one observation about the 4/die "just to be on the safe side" superstition.

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Desmond

Kudra, you just read my mind.

First, I'll comment on this quote:

i do not understand your "n" and "ng" comparison, those are completely different sounds

That's my point exactly! To us, they are two totally different sounds, so it's easy to memorize which is which. But to someone else, they may not be. I should have given you an example, such as in Hangzhou, they don't distinguish between the "n" and the "ng" sounds in their Mandarin, so "pin1yin1" "ping1yin1" and "pin1ying1" all sound the same. So sometimes my profs mixed up the n and ng when writing the pinyin for a word.

For native speakers, si3 and si4 are also distinctly different sounds. Nobody has troubles memorizing which is which.

As for why 四 is considered unlucky because it sounds like 死, I'm not really sure... I see how they're close in comparison, but still, they are different.... Any native speakers out there that can shed some light on it?

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Quest

Well we have the habbit of rendering numbers into meaningful phrases.... in those cases, even proximate sounds count.

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kudra

Quest I am not sure what you mean, can you expand on that a bit?

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Ferno
That's my point exactly! To us, they are two totally different sounds, so it's easy to memorize which is which. But to someone else, they may not be. I should have given you an example, such as in Hangzhou, they don't distinguish between the "n" and the "ng" sounds in their Mandarin, so "pin1yin1" "ping1yin1" and "pin1ying1" all sound the same. So sometimes my profs mixed up the n and ng when writing the pinyin for a word.

Hey, what a coincidence! I know someone from Huang Zhou. When I asked her where she was from, she pronounced it "Huan Zhou". I don't know anything about Chinese cities and when I looked it up and found that it was actually "Huang", I just assumed I misheard.

Do you guys know of anything/any words that I can tell her to say to show that she's pronouncing it wrong? Or are Huang Zhou people incapable of distinguishing them? How can they learn English then?

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Desmond

Actually, it's Hang Zhou, no "u" in it, but yeah, the "ng" and the "n" sound actually sound like they converge into a new, nasal sort of sound, eh?

They can distinguish between the n and the ng sounds, just like they can distinguish between the pinyin sounds of "c" and "ch" (and "s" and "sh" and "z" and "zh"). They just don't do it in normal conversation. So an example: if I asked my prof "how do you say who are you?" they would say "ni3 shi4 shei2", but when I overheard her talking to other profs, they would say it like "ni3 si4 sei2". Occasionally, she would mix up her s/z/c's with her sh/zh/ch's. :)

It was interesting, because I actually had two profs. The morning one had a harder time making herself distinguish between "n" and "ng", whereas the afternoon one didn't have as much of a problem. Generally though, the morning one still knew which ones ended with "n" and which ones ended with "ng", but just couldn't say it as easily.

They say the Suzhou accent (much like the Hangzhou accent) are the most beautiful of the accents, very soft and much like singing. I personally really liked their accent, quite nice!

Maybe try to get your friend to say "bing1 qi2 lin2" (ice cream) and see if you can hear the diff between the "ng" in bing and the "n" in lin....?

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Desmond
How can they learn English then?

Basically that's like saying "how can you, an English speaker, learn Chinese if you don't naturally produce a lot of Mandarin phonemes?"

Maybe you can, maybe you can't. Depends how capable you are and how hard you try.

The morning prof, when speaking English, didn't distinguish much between her "n" and "ng"s but still was understandable enough. The afternoon prof was able to. Same goes for us... some people I know simply cannot say the chinese "yu" sound, they just say it like "wu". (eg. they say 去 like 处) And some totally can.

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Desmond

Next time you see your friend, tell her 听说杭州是中国最漂亮的地方 (ting1shuo1 hang2zhou1 shi4 zhong1guo2 zui4 piao4liang de di4fang) :mrgreen:

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Ferno

hmmm wait there might be some confusion here, I just realized...

I mean she said Han Zhou and the actual city is Hang Zhou, I confused it with Huang Zhou. Is this what we meant or are we talking about different things?

Is Huang Zhou a different city?

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Ferno
Next time you see your friend, tell her 听说杭州是中国最漂亮的地方 (ting1shuo1 hang2zhou1 shi4 zhong1guo2 zui4 piao4liang de di4fang)

I think that's a bit too wordy for a white person :)

Just wondering, what does the ting1shuo1 mean? "listen say"??

--

anyway, what do you think would happen if I said "It's pronounced Hang, not Han"? Would she (or any other Hang Zhou person) be confused?

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Desmond

听说 means "I've heard..." as in "I heard there's a new store opening up down the street"

I wonder what she'd say... would she get offended? Take the word "bitter"...What would a british person say if you said "it's bittER, not bittah".... they'd probably say "whatever, they're the same and nobody is more right than anyone else.

I'm not sure if that example works as well for Chinese, as they do have a so-called standard (Beijing) where the "n" and "ng" are more distinguished. Maybe she'd feel bad? Maybe she wouldn't care?

Any native speakers out there (who speak a non-beijing style accent) that can comment? How would you feel (do you feel) if and when a Beijinger comments negatively on your accent?

I've heard some southerners say to me "who cares about the northern accent? All the business is in the south so our Mandarin accent is all that matters". Of course that is just the personal opinion of the person telling that.

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Desmond

I can't help but laugh; this totally reminds me of a simpson's episode about "chowder vs. chowdah". Know what I'm talking about? haha

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LiYuanXi

IMO i think the Hang Zhou person knows the difference and it is just their habit of speaking to omit the 'G'.

Just like in Fujian, the people there knows that 是 is suppose to be pronounced as 'SHI' but they still pronounce it as 'SI'. It's a kind of habit and if one day someone in Fujian decides that he will pronounced 是 in the right way, the other locals will be like:"Hey, you are not local right? Are you for Beijing?"

Hee hee... brought that up because I am like that too. Unless I am having an oral exams, I normally just speak lazily, 'shi' as 'si'. (My ancestors are from Fujian)

BTW, 'ting shuo' means 'heard that'... Heard that Hang Zhou is the most beautiful place in China.

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LiYuanXi

Desmond: Just saw your post. I am that typical Southern Chinese you are talking about and my reaction if a beijing guy correct me for my accent will be like:"does it matter? as long as you understood what i said."

However, i realised that if I am surrounded by Northern people, I will naturally speak perfect chinese.. Strange.

'Si ma? wo bu zi dao.' <--- example of my chinese.

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