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Kong Junrui

How could I get better at tones?

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Desmond

I wouldn't say that pronouncing "shi" as "si" is lazy... it's just custom. If everyone around you is pronouncing it like "si" then why would you do otherwise?

Like in English, you could say "I don't know" but most people around you just say "I dunno". It's quicker and easier, and so on most occasions, it's not even necessary to say it slowly and clearly (unless you're up giving a business presentation or something).

This brings up Taiwan's situation... how the mainlanders went (read: fled) to Taiwan and forced the locals to learn Mandarin. They took to it, but similar to the southern China accent, say their "shi" sounds as "si". The children of the mainlanders had two options: pronounce mandarin the way their parents do (shi) or as everyone else does (si). In English, do you know of any kids of British parents in Canada or America who grow up here and still speak with a British accent? I don't.... they all adopt the accent around them, or else it just seems kinda odd.

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Desmond

I agree with you, Liyuanxi, that if they understand, then who cares?

It's funny though, cause my Beijing prof is totally high on his horse, and absolutely loves his accent. He grew up in Beijing and moved around, but kept his Beijing accent because he was so proud of it. He always speaks about how the other accents in China are wrong, and Beijing has the only true accent.

Sounds like someone has an ego problem! Don't get me wrong, I like the Beijing accent as well (the r's are cute) but it's not the only valid accent out there!

Personally, I find I'm adaping to the standard accent... probably it's what most of my professors have taught and it's what I hear on Chinese TV. And it's the most "clear" to my ears. When I live in China again, I'm sure that will change.

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LiYuanXi
In English, do you know of any kids of British parents in Canada or America who grow up here and still speak with a British accent? I don't.... they all adopt the accent around them, or else it just seems kinda odd.

:clap:clap:clap

Yes you are right, so my accent is here to stay.

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JoH

Roddy, apologies if I have missed this, since I haven't been keeping up with the forum for a while, but did you ever get around to posting that article on your experiences 'relearning' tones that you mention near the beginning of this thread?

thanks, Jo

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hei ren

Yeah, I'm glad this website/forums exists, because I read a lot from this board before I took Chinese, and oh boy did I knew I was going to walk into a ****storm. So far in class, pronunication is emphasized while tones aren't as much, but that's so because the next course is going hammer us on the tones, and I know that it's going to be hell. :wall

The one thing that I hate with the tones is I can't hear em' outside of our class. I know for sure that our wonderful teacher overemphasizes them in class, because most of the time when I can figure out the few words I know in Mandarin outside of class, it's only because of the context, like everyone is saying here. Like with tone 4, it doesn't sound like 5-1 at all when I hear it from these people. More like a 4-2, so a lot of times I'll hear tone 4 when it's actually tone 1. And what's the worst? I can never hear tone 2 or tone 3. I knew that I wasn't going to automatically master tone 3 because it seems to be the hardest for everyone, and I'm pretty damn sure that native speakers skip it a whole lot in 口语, because in every 3,1 combination, I hear I'll never hear the 3. For me, tone 3 always sounds like a neutral tone when it's before a 1. I don't know if this is true, but this is something I've noticed a lot from listening.

And there's 2. The little devious bugger I can't ever hear when a native has his/her motor mouth going off, and 新闻 is the worst. That's why I never try to watch it.

*sigh* I hope I figure out my tonal problems quick, because I really hate being left in the dark with these tones...

As for people saying that they can never remember the tones that go with the words, it's like the easiest thing for me because I always remember the pinyin, which I seem never to forget. I just wish I could say the same for the characters. :-? Also, so far, tone changes haven't been difficult at all, since we only know 120 words ( :P). Obviously later on context will be a determing factor in dechipering meaning when you have tone changes present. I just am surprised natives can do it so fast with vast vocab they have...

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Ferno

yeah hei ren, I have always been having the same problems

apparently the third tone isnt a falling/rising tone in regular speech, it's just a low falling tone, something like 2-1, and never rises (the only time it dips is in isolation, or at the end of a sentance)

tone 4 can sound like tone 1 because tone 4 is just a louder, more "blasted" tone.. so if the persons voice is going up then the tone 4 will seem like a high level tone (1) (at least that's what I think)

but generally all I can hear for certain are the tones 1 and 4. Everything else I have to figure out in relation to those tones - so tones 2/3/neutral all sound the same to me, they're just tones that are neither falling nor high level. Literally, when I hear words and I write them down (ie today, "shu ren" acquaitance) I have to write something like shu2/3ren2 because although I assume that the "ren" is the same as in "ren2" [person], I have no idea about the shu - I just know that neutral tones can't start words. I check the dictionary, turns out my initial guess of a 3rd tone was wrong, it was a 2nd. woops.

about the native speakers thing... to tell you the truth, I really don't think native speakers pay attention to tones. Chinese already has so many homonyms, even if you have a tone for a single-syllable word it still gives you nothing.

music still has to make sense somehow, and there's no tones in music.

ie: I talked to a couple of Chinese guys a few weeks ago. I asked them how does Chinese music work if tones are omitted. They didn't understand me. I talked about the standard ma1/ma2/ma3/ma4 thing - they still didn't get it... I say "If I sing 'mother' in a song, how do you know I didn't sing 'horse'?" One of them says "...horse is ma4" (he says it with an obvious falling tone) Then I'm like "But there are no tones in music!" They respond: "umm..:-? :-? we never thought of it that way"

:wall

and of course the only reason they know about tones at all is because they studied Mandarin formally. If you ask them about their home dialect (not mandarin), and ask them about the tones in it - they'll draw up a blank. You get nonsense like "it doesn't have tones" or "it's not the same as mandarin" :wall Can you imagine asking an English speaker "Does English ever have two consonants in a row?" and getting an answer like "Uh... i dont know, does English have consonants?"

and we can't forget the warping that occurs when changing tones in speech, when tones indicate mood and emotion:

When you first begin using your Chinese to talk about subjects that actually matter to you, you find that it feels somewhat like trying to have a passionate argument with your hands tied behind your back -- you are suddenly robbed of some vital expressive tools you hadn't even been aware of having.

well, that's enough venting for today :)

加油!!

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Quest
about the native speakers thing... to tell you the truth, I really don't think native speakers pay attention to tones.

That's true, they don't pay attention, they do it naturally. They don't analyze your tones word by word, but if you make a mistake, it's also second nature that they can catch your mistake instantly.

and of course the only reason they know about tones at all is because they studied Mandarin formally. If you ask them about their home dialect (not mandarin), and ask them about the tones in it - they'll draw up a blank. You get nonsense like "it doesn't have tones" or "it's not the same as mandarin"

That's also true. Before I met skylee here, I didn't know the Cantonese tones at all, even though I speak it natively.

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HashiriKata

Tones are a shy creature. They rarely show themselves to those who don't believe in their existence. :mrgreen:

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thebatman

I have only been studying mandarin for a few months. I am forced to study using audio lessons although they are very good ones, and books. I also have a friend in shanghi that I email almost daily with questions and we speak over the internet using headsets when we can. The twelve hour time difference makes that difficult. She is trying to improve her english as well so we help each other. Being able to have someone listen to me and correct my tones and pronunctiation has been a big help. The reason I started studying mandarin is my fiance is chinese and lives in china. She is studying english. I have had people say that once we are married and together everyday that we will both improve quickly on each others languages. I have trouble remembering which tones for which words. I can remember words most of the time. I also have trouble with the grammar and trying to properly put my own sentences together. I think once I can get a handle on the sentence structure and using different particles and modifiers then I will move along faster.Not having someone else to speak and practice with often is a big obstacle. I do watch a lot of movies and tv in mandarin. As to learning that way being helpful is a debate that will never be settled. I too believe that listening to conversations in mandarin even if not totally understood helps a great deal in training the ear to absorb the language.I study everyday and practice saying what I have learned as much as possible. At work,in a factory, I will practice all day repeating and repeating.I have found it helpful at least for me that keeping a small notebook in my pocket I can reference helps me to correct what I forget. Even if you have to study alone repetition,repetition is the most important thing I believe.

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hei ren

I hardly watch Mandarin TV even though I have the resources to. If I do, after about five minutes I end up getting bored, because my ears aren't good enough to pick up all the phonemes, which happens if I don't know what words their saying. :-?

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thebatman

yes, it can be hard to hear many of the different tones and such watching tv or movie but for me at least, that difficulty forces me to concentrate more intensely to the conversation.

Unlike english which is my native language where tones aren't used you can listen to a conversation either on tv or by actual people you are with and you don't have to focus that intensely on what they are saying.

Listening to mandarin means I must learn to focus all my attention on the speaker. I have a friend I talk to in shanghi using skype, if you don't know about skype it is a free internet calling program. It's great. talk all you want to anyone for free. My friend speaks some english but because she has limited vocabulary I have learned to listen closely to what she says to me and also be more aware of my choice of words and how fast I speak knowing she cannot understand everything I say.

unfortunately most americans are guilty of not being good listeners. we tend to do many things at once including talking or sort of listening to others. studying mandarin has helped me to break this bad habit. everyone learns in different ways. no way is better than another we just have to figure out what works for us.

Editors Note: Paragraphs Added.

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Lugubert

Where I study Chinese, the uni lecturer (yes, all 1 of him) concentrates on reading, grammar and character structure. His idea is that those of us who are interested enough should go to China and learn speaking/listening there.

I suffer from a fairly bad case of tinnitus, which means that listening through headphones just creates noise in my ears. Makes learning by tape more difficult. I try to use tones according to the book when reading, but a friend of mine has said on numerous occasions when I've really concetrated on making it a 2, "No, not 4". Through sheer attrition, though, I notice that I increasingly make the correct guess when I for example want to look up two character words in a dictionary and look for character 1 with its (supposed) tone.

From the Ferno-Desmond discussions:

Ferno:

When I asked her where she was from, she pronounced it "Huan Zhou"

Are you sure you didn't hear "Han Zou"?

Regarding the Han/Hang thing, my 杭州 friend is adamant on making a distinction between the vowels in the finals -an and -ang: -an has a much more closed variety, like IPA [æ], compared to the -ang [an], or [ang]. I haven't found a similar difference between n and ng finals with other vowels (yet), though. And I can't discuss those things with her, because she can't see a final as made up of parts, but only as a whole.

I took an evening class in "Mandarin" for rehearsing after one semester of university Modern Standard Chinese. The teacher was very Southern, constantly mixing up her zh/z etc., wrote 人 as pinyin len, sometimes mixed traditional and simplied characters when writing etc. I had to correct her several times. WTF, we were paying to get "Mandarin"!

Trying to concentrate:

1. Is the an/ang difference very regional? WenLin, for example, has to my ears exactly the same vowel for both finals.

2. Is there anywhere a similar difference for en/eng etc.?

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Ferno

yes Lugubert, I should have said "han/hang" .... is this from this thread?

the issue is with the "ng" final, doesn't matter if it's -eng or -ang or -ing etc... from what I've figured out, the Wu dialects (ie Shanghaiese) do not differentiate between 'ng' and 'n' finals. That means that Mandarin speakers from Shanghai and nearby Hangzhou (which would have a similar native speech) will have the ng/n thing affect their pronounciation. So this will include the south-coastal speakers in China, not all of southern china..

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deezy
Will I ever be able to distinguish ma1/ma2/ma3/ma4/ma in regular speech as completely different syllables?

As a child, I sometimes had trouble distinguishing between tones 2 and 3. However, I would think that for most, the differences between 1 vs 2/3 vs 4 at least should be fairly easily obvious? Or am I wrong here?

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yingguoguy
Where I study Chinese, the uni lecturer (yes, all 1 of him) concentrates on reading, grammar and character structure. His idea is that those of us who are interested enough should go to China and learn speaking/listening there.

I think this is quite common on courses. I think the problem is that learning tones is a long hard frustrating road for many of us, and it requires a lot of one-to-one practice and individual attention, which in a class of any size, the teacher isn't going to be able to give. On the one hand, I understand this, as if people realised how hard tones are, the drop out rate on courses would be far higher, on the other hand it's very demoralizing to get to China and find you can't communicate because of your tones.

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Ferno
As a child, I sometimes had trouble distinguishing between tones 2 and 3. However, I would think that for most, the differences between 1 vs 2/3 vs 4 at least should be fairly easily obvious? Or am I wrong here?

why as a child, specifically?

(2/3 sound the same to me too)

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Green Pea
Ideally it's not a separate question in your mind of what tone goes with a particular word. Basically if you spend enough time with the audio files/tapes to get your native-speaker/non-native speaker listening time ratio large enough (1.5' date=' 2, 3 I have no idea) Then when you hear the word in your head, you will be hearing the version from a native speaker. (That of course assumes you hear the words in your head....)

I found that practicing with tapes enough to produce the tones and work towards natural rhythm, I ended up knowing the tones without having to memorize them separately. I don't know if this would work for everybody. But, it is certainly more fun than sitting quietly with a vocabulary list and trying to memorize what tone goes with each vocabulary word. The point is to train your vocal muscles, and let them train your memory of tones. Or something like that.... At least that's what I think happened with me, but the whole business is kind of mysterious.[/quote']

I think this is the best way for most students. You have a good intuitive understanding of the process.

Tones are the 4:00 mile of language learning. A mental barrier that may or may not contribute to success. I think some linguist somewhere came up the concept of tones with it to try to dissect Chinese. Now, that's fine for linguistic analysis, but severly hampers learning. People try to speak the tones correctly, but that creates an unnatural sound. Learners focused on tones try to build the sentence structure from piece to whole. Most with limited success for several months or years.

I look at it like counting up golf scores. Using tones to approach the calculation would be to add up each score:

3+4+5+4+4+5+5+4+6. A tone focused approach forces the student to isolate each score and add it to the next number. 3+4=5. 5+4=9, etc. Now, you can do it this way and get the answer. A faster, more natural approach would be to combine them, like (3+9)+(15)+(10), etc. This example is not a perfect analogy, but I think demonstrates that trying to isolate each tone creates unnatural speech. To speak better, the student needs to focus more on combining than isolating.

A way to practice this concept is to make up words. With your tutor, talk to each other but make up all the words. Just focus on mimicing the patterns of their speech while making up the conversation. Actually, I've tried this for real. I've totally made up Chinese words and have been understood. You probably did this as a kid with your siblings.

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Ferno

then that makes it seem like Chinese isn't even a real langauge, just a random collection of sounds that may or may not mean something when said in a certain order.

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