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Kong Junrui

How could I get better at tones?

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stephanhodges

I agree that listening repeatedly helps to master tones without thinking about the tones. Especially with multiple tone sequences.

I would like to add, that I have found it very important to also speak aloud (called "shadowing") the sentences immidiately after hearing them. It has two benefits for me.

I get used to my voice, and get used to using it to correct my pronunciation while at the same time being able to talk normally (which means to "ignore" the voice on a conscious level).

Second, I have found it essential for practicing the different muscle movements of the tongue and face to get correct pronunciation. The movements have to be drilled repeatedly, so that they become quick and easy. Example: changing from the retroflex "sh2" to frontal "jian" (time) was difficult for a while. Too easy to use an english (american) "sh" sound there!

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Green Pea
I would like to add, that I have found it very important to also speak aloud (called "shadowing") the sentences immidiately after hearing them. It has two benefits for me.

I get used to my voice, and get used to using it to correct my pronunciation while at the same time being able to talk normally (which means to "ignore" the voice on a conscious level).

Second, I have found it essential for practicing the different muscle movements of the tongue and face to get correct pronunciation. The movements have to be drilled repeatedly, so that they become quick and easy. Example: changing from the retroflex "sh2" to frontal "jian" (time) was difficult for a while. Too easy to use an english (american) "sh" sound there!

Nice! I like it! Especially the muscle movement practice. I have an English "face", a Mandarin face, a Cantonese face, and a Beijinghua face. Like a good actor, your face will change it's muscle structure.

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.

If I pull out a gun and point it at your head and yell: "JEYJWETTIOU!! KEGHNEM!" You will probably put your hands up even if you don't know what I'm saying. Language is like that sometimes. There's often more to meaning than words.

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Altair
(2/3 sound the same to me too)

I was quite surprised by this. Are you talking about hearing the difference in isolation, or in connected speech? If you can give details, I might have some ideas.

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Ferno

in isolation like we've all heard them when we first started studying Mandarin (ie http://www.shufawest.us/language/tonedrill.html ) it's obvious to me, but not in speech.

A dip/rise (3rd tone) ["3-1-2" in the phonetic tone representation, right?) would be longer by definition, but no one is going to say certain syllables 33% slower, so there must be distortion

fourth tones are distinctive, 1st tones are distinctive, the rest sound the same

ie one of the audio files that kudra posted:

(http://www.columbia.edu/itc/ealac/zhang/dh/dh_audioclips.htm , ---> 01a )

(or direct link:


http://www.columbia.edu/itc/ealac/zhang/dh/dh_audio/01a.mp3

The first thing said:

da(4) wei(~) he(~) hai(~) ling(~) zai(4) zhong(1) guo(~)

all the ~ sound the same - neither 1st nor 4th tones, just something in between. I can assume that the "he" means "and", thus is tone 2, but if I didn't have contextual information, I could easily take it for a 3rd tone said a bit quickly. Or maybe a neutral tone that is being affected by the natural intonation of the sentance. Simiarily for the "guo" in Zhong1guo2.

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Quest
da(4) wei(~) he(~) hai(~) ling(~) zai(4) zhong(1) guo(~)

all the ~ sound the same - neither 1st nor 4th tones, just something in between. I can assume that the "he" means "and", thus is tone 2, but if I didn't have contextual information, I could easily take it for a 3rd tone said a bit quickly. Or maybe a neutral tone that is being affected by the natural intonation of the sentance. Simiarily for the "guo" in Zhong1guo2.

I think it's clear and obvious: 4 2 2 3 2 4 1 2

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imron

The trick to getting 2 and 3 tones, is to realise that even though both of them rise, the rising part of the tone starts at a different pitch (see this tone chart for a graphical representation).

So if you pay greater attention to the start of the tone, you should be able to hear the difference in starting pitch, and from that be able to distinguish the tones.

In the example you linked to, if you pay attention, there is a noticeable dip between hai3 ling2 that is not there in wei2 he2, or zhong1 guo2.

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carlo

In the piece above, hai3 doesn't even rise, it only dips. In actual speech, most third tones are like that ('half third tones'). Second tones, on the other hand, are always rising.

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hei ren

I was listening to the audio clip that was just posted up here, and at 2:14 I thought I heard them say 中文 when I actually heard zhong1wen. Is that another way to say it or I am just not hearing it correctly? I mean, I heard the rest that sentence correctly, even the 几. :-?

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kudra

I was listening to the audio clip that was just posted up here, and at 2:14 I thought I heard them say 中文 when I actually heard zhong1wen. Is that another way to say it or I am just not hearing it correctly? I mean, I heard the rest that sentence correctly, even the 几.

Hei Ren -- This is perhaps the issue of tones getting neutralized in natural speech. As opposed to

ennunciated (I would say over ennunciated) very clearly in say news broadcasts.

As for this recording,

wen still sounded like a 2nd tone to me, although not emphasized as stongly as zhong1.

http://www.chinese-forums.com/showthread.php?p=47499&highlight=tone#post47499

for my previous comment.

If you do advanced search in the forum user/member kudra and keyword tone you will find

the complete listing of my rantings on this subject.

I am still interested in why tv news seems extra clear as far as tones go, compared to "natural" speech say as represented by dialog in soap opera Chinese Style Divorce.

If I had to guess I'd say it has something to do with the likelihood of confusion. In the soap opera, there is so much context that I suspect the characters could mumble and a native speaker would pretty much know what was being said.

As for tv news, the topics are changing for each story, so the context is not necessarily known. I'm guessing this lack of contextual information (compared to the soap opera) requires the tv anchors to speak clearer. Even if there were not the issue of serving non native mandarin speaking Chinese who are helped out by the clear pronunciation.

Perhaps some Chinese native speakers/linguists could shoot down my theories. Please.

Notice that at the yale site there is a schedule for practicing rhythm and tone

http://classes.yale.edu/chns130/tatutorial/index.html

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Altair
da(4) wei(~) he(~) hai(~) ling(~) zai(4) zhong(1) guo(~)

all the ~ sound the same - neither 1st nor 4th tones, just something in between. I can assume that the "he" means "and", thus is tone 2, but if I didn't have contextual information, I could easily take it for a 3rd tone said a bit quickly. Or maybe a neutral tone that is being affected by the natural intonation of the sentance. Simiarily for the "guo" in Zhong1guo2.

To me, the "wei" and the "guo" are also quite clear. I hear a full rising tone. The "he," "hai," and "ling" are not so clear, but are still pretty much identifiable.

If you have trouble with these, it may be because you are trying to listen for full, stressed tones; however, perhaps only half of the syllables in a typical Mandarin sentence are stressed and receive their full tone value. The others are reduced in some way.

I am not sure how I actually distinguish the tones in the quoted sequence, but I think it might be something like this. When I here "he2," I hear a clear drop in pitch from the top level established by the beginning of “da” and the end of “wei.” This drop, however, does not go to the bottom of the normal voice register. For me, this marks the syllable as second tone in this type of sequence.

By the way, when I talk about a drop in pitch, I hear it in an absolute, musical sense; however, I also hear that there is “room” to go up and complete the rise of a typical second pitch. Whether I actually hear the rise does not matter, because knowing that there is room for the rise makes its identity clear.

With “hai3,” the voice drops to near the bottom of its register, marking it for me as a third tone. I not only hear the drop in an absolute sense, but hear that the speaker has dropped the pitch to the bottom of her comfort zone. Any lower and it would be nearly inaudible. Sometimes it sounds like the audible equivalent of jumping down on a springboard that allows the pitch to rise again afterward.

With “ling2,” the voices slides back up, but again, not high enough to be a first tone. There is too much room left to go higher. My impression is that the pitch rises steadily from the bottom without the “gap” that might signal a following first tone. In other words, the pitch slides up, rather than jumping up.

I suspect that the rise in “ling” is actually pretty sustained, but I tend to make the mistake of paying attention only to the vowel (i.e., “i”) and sometimes miss the rise in pitch of the “ng.”

Even though I am talking about distinctions of “absolute” pitch, I should make clear two things. I mean “absolute” in the sense of one individual’s pitch range, not “absolute” from person to person. Also, the intonation of Mandarin can make significant changes in the levels of pitches. For instance, a first tone syllable might have a rather low pitch at the end of sentence if the speaker adopts an intonation that signals he or she is coming to the end of a lengthy commentary. As you become more used to things like intonation, you begin to know to take such things into account in interpreting the tones.

One strategy to use that might help to gain consistency in interpreting pitches is not to attempt to hear them on every syllable, but to listen only for stressed syllables. If you cannot hear stress at all, you may be confused by some of the effect that this feature of pronunciation can have on tones. An imperfect analogy could be made with English, where the vowels of stressed syllables are often quite different from the vowels of unstressed syllables. “Record” can be stressed on either syllable, depending on whether it is a verb or noun, but the vowels change greatly.

Another strategy to use when you cannot distinguish a tone is to try reproducing alternatives in your head (if, of course, you have the luxury of time.) If you try to say the alternate tones at the same speed as you have heard them, you can often eliminate some of the options or else begin to hear what makes the tone distinctive in the given context.

Yet another strategy is not to try to analyze tones in isolation, but to try to hear them relative to the preceding or the following tone. I often find that I can hear certain tone sequences more clearly then I can hear the individual tones in isolation.

I hope this helps.

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yinyang

In my opinion, a new language is like a jungle. And teacher's responsibility is to tell her/his students what kind of paths there are which can lead you out of the jungle.

I studied Mandarin 3,5 years in '90s and during those years I had 2 Chinese teachers, the first one was from Beijing Yuyan Wenhua Daxue and the second one from Beida. During those 3,5 years they never even mentioned that we should remember/learn by heart the tones. Now I'm just wondering why on earth didn't they do it?

In the beginning, the tones were practiced for some time, for a short time but since in the beginning so much new information coming in (sounds, grammar, characters etc.), the tones drowned in a busy and messy beginning.

I totally agree that teachers have not enough time to concentrate on the tones for a long time BUT I do think that teachers could repeatedly TELL their students for example like this (I borrow the thougths of wisdom by necroflux):

"Students, you must understand that a word is not a word unless you have the correct tone associated with it. Knowing that a knife is "dao" without a tone should feel just as incorrect to you as not knowing "dao" at all. So every time you learn a word, you must pay as much attention to it's tone as you do to it's pronunciation otherwise.

When speaking the language, you must be equally vigilant about being correct with tones, I would argue from day one. Anything less will result in bad habits which are VERY DIFFICULT TO REVERSE. I should reiterate that you don't have to be perfect; what's important is that your mindset is correct and that you are always listening to tones in your own speech and of course in every one else's. Any mistakes that you inevitably make at the beginning of your studies will become apparent as you progress and you can easily fix them at that time."

So, teachers should remind their students all the time on the importance of the tones. I think that teachers who don't do it, can't be regarded as good teachers. Since the tones are so important element of Chinese language, the tones should be emphasized much, much, much more than Chinese teachers do.

A good teacher is creative and innovative and, if necessary, s/he creates new ways of teaching if the old ways are not working good enough.

After this, it would be totally up to the students whether they practice the tones or not. But if the students haven't even been told how important the tones actually are, how could they understand that by themselves? Well, quite probably they will understand it but usually not very soon....

Another thing which I think Chinese teachers teaching abroad should emphasize is

tingxie practice. Tingxie practices could start already from the second class hour. First just Ni hao! etc stuff. And after the class has reached for example the lesson number 10, the tingxie practice could include words not only from the lesson 10 but also words from the lessons 1 -> 9. Tingxie practice would be really, really good practice for the students who study Chinese abroad.

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sjcma

RE: 2nd/3rd tone differentiation. Below, I've copied and pasted my own post from the Learning Chinese forum in "forumosa.com".

I think what's particularly difficult about the 2nd and 3rd tone differentiation lies with the metamorphasis that the 3rd tone can go through. A 3rd tone character, carefully enunciated, is a long tone including first a falling tone followed by a rising tone. But in regular speech, the rising part is omitted so you end up with a semi-falling tone. The real difficulty comes when you have a succession of 3rd tone characters where some of those 3rd tones,
in fact
, become identical to 2nd tones. Thus, the changing nature of the 3rd tone makes it difficult to learn even for Chinese people who's native tongue is not Mandarin. Cantonese has more tones than Mandarin and its very own tone shifts as well. But native Cantonese speakers also have trouble differentiating Mandarin tones.

An English equivalent may be the simplification of "want to" into "wanna" during regular speech. The desire for speed and ease of pronounciation often merge words together and drop sounds that would otherwise be there if those words were carefully enunciated.

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DrZero

Hi, I'm new here, first post.

Well, I had always thought I might like to take college courses in Mandarin, but now I don't think I will. I think it's criminal to teach students to speak Chinese without making sure they have the fundamentals of tones and pronunciation down pat. I don't think most Chinese people could make sense of what you're saying without tones, and I don't think it would be possible to ever get your listening comprehension to a decent level. How would you know if someone wanted to buy (mai3) or sell (mai4) something?

I started learning Mandarin about seven years ago and have been off and on since then. Mostly off -- for years at a time -- so my Mandarin is not too good. (I am trying to get back into it, though, studying on my own.)

However, when I first started learning, I was around a lot of Chinese people. As soon as I figured out that tones and precise pronunciation were important, I worked hard to get them right. It took a while, but I had native speakers around to get me on the right track, telling if I was right or not when I tried to pronounce a sound I had learned in a book.

Most important has been learning how the tones change contours in context. The third tone is the most infamous, but as most people here probably know, they all change depending on what they follow. For example, a first tone following a third tone will be lower than a first tone following a second tone.

My tones are not perfect, and I often make mistakes, but I feel pretty solid on the basics in concept. My biggest problem is knowing what to do when four or five third tones come in succession. I've read the theory on another post, but in practice I'm pretty lost when that happens.

I am married to a Chinese woman now, hence the renewed effort to improve. I have sometimes been able to call her on the phone at work, disguising my voice and speaking in Chinese, and fool her into thinking I'm really a Chinese person. The illusion doesn't last long -- if I say more than two sentences, she's onto me, usually because a tone didn't sound quite natural to her. It can even be a problem with the neutral tone, which is not as neutral as many think; it can either be like an understated first tone, or an understated fourth tone. And the difference is enough to clue her in that it's me!

If you speak Chinese without tones, I would say you should stop efforts in all other areas (grammar, vocabulary, characters) right now and start spending all your time on tones until you're comfortable with them.

I think that younger people who have studied other languages and been around foreigners may cut you some slack on tones, because they're mind is more malleable and they might figure out the meaning from context. But when you start talking with older people who have less exposure to foreign languages and people, my experience is that your tones and pronunciation have to be impeccable or they will not understand you at all.

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heifeng
I would say you should stop efforts in all other areas (grammar, vocabulary, characters) right now and start spending all your time on tones until you're comfortable with them.

Yeah, I would agree with this. All my tone learning stopped after my 1st yr of Chinese when I had to learn more characters then I could keep up with. Big mistake! Any new learners of Chinese should get a really strict tutor from the beginnging b/c it's hard to break old habits down the road!

For the last few months I've been really focusing in on my tones to improve my 朗读 ability. Something else that I think would fall under tones, and that I don't think people should overlook is 轻声 and tone changing rules. In addition to putting in time to memorize individual character tones, in speaking don't forget about the tone changing principles ( 3+3=2+3, etc, 一, 不) and qingsheng, otherwise you will still end up sounding a bit off.

It's interesting but one of the pronunciation books I recommended on a different post (somewhere) it also talks about how for qingsheng, that when the first character is a certain tone, how the qingsheng on the second character comes out (on a scale of 1度 (highest) to 4度(lowest)

for example

1st + 2度

妈妈, 金子

2nd + 2度

头发, 盘子, 爷爷

3rd + 1度

喜欢, 嗓子

4th + 4度

爸爸,妹妹,句子

Also, it's worth noting how the first character is pronounciated a bit longer, and the vowel on the 2nd character may change a bit.

When you factor in all of this (especially if you are already use to how things sound when local speakers pronounce words) it's easier to point out your own mistakes and what makes your tones and speaking sound unnative. At least, now that I have been going back to clean up my tones these types of rules seems to make alot more sense now! Also, now that I am getting better (slowly) at the tones, it is helping with listening comprehension a bit...

Anyway, hope this helps!

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Radial

This seems like a long discussion which does not deal with the fundamental question of "how could I get better at tones?"

Most of us will face the fact that we should improve our awareness of tones. In English, we use tone, but in a different way. We use it to provide emphasis and to indicate questions. In Chinese, the tones are a way to differentiate charcters/words.

A basic learning concept if moving from unconcious incompetent--> concious incompetent -->concious competent --> unconcious competent

You cannot speak smoothly if you are conciouly thinking through each tone as you say them. But, you can do practice which emphasizes the tones so that in normal conversations you will use them properly.

I have started using the ZDT program to increase my awareness of the tone connected with each character. This has also helped me correct some sound errors. This is intended to increase concious awareness... so that I can internalize this aspect of the language.

I would like to hear more good practices...

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flameproof

I don't bother about tones. I find them hard to remember and people seem to understand what I talk anyway.

I get the vocab I use mainly picked up from audio which I just copy. That gives me the feeling for the sound of the whole phrase, rather then the individual word. With that in mind you will be understood.

I think to listen a lot is the key, so you get a feeling for the sound and flow of the language.

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kdavid

A few things I've noticed in regards to tones:

1. With the exception of the CCTV news broadcasters, I find that when natives speak quickly, most tones seem to disappear (this could also be due to the fact, however, that my ears aren't fully use to them yet?)

2. I can often understand foreigners speaking Mandarin on TV much better than I can the soap operas. Why? They speak slower and seem to pay closer attention to their tones.

3. When I consciously speak quickly and pay less attention to my tones I am almost always understood, compared to when I speak slower and focus on tones I (almost half the time) get an odd look and am asked to repeat myself.

4. Last night my girlfriend and I were watching a program which showcased different foreigners speaking Mandarin. She deliberately pointed out the "bad ones" not by fluency or vocabulary, but by pronuciation and tone usage alone (both of which I couldn't point out).

5. (Yes, I'll go there... sorry) I'm told DaShan "sounds Chinese" because his tones are perfect.

Lastly, all of these observations are contradictory to one another, which just makes me feel more confused.

I want my mommy...

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nipponman

I think its important to remember that chinese people are raised from when they were babies listening to tones. Now, scientific study shows that that prepares an area in their brain for distinction of tonality. That being said, I think it is very detrimental to discard your tones, the reason they seem to disappear with natives is because their ability to recognize them and say them is so far above someone who didn't distinguish tonality from birth. Our ears need vigorous tonal training to become fluent in tones. I can distinguish tones, but only for semi-conversational speeds. I think everyone can hear the difference between the tones (very few people are actually tone deaf), but our brains aren't used to registering the differences in sounds so quickly, therefore we can only focus on the differences we can detect, like those between different syllables, and we think that chinese people don't care about tones. I remember speaking to my professor, I was talking about weightlifting and such

so I (thought I) said, ...wo3 xi3 huan ju3 zhong4 ... and when I was done she said:

"That was very good, but what is ju2 zhong4?"

And I said:

"weightlifting"

And she said:

"Oh, you mean ju3 zhong4".

So, as you can see, tones are very important for differentiating words, we foreigners just can't hear it, yet. Think about the difference b/w r and l. (Not to generalize but) Native Chinese people don't seem like they can hear the difference. Well, like we can distinguish b/w r and l with no thought, so can they distinguish b/w the tones.

nipponman

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bomaci
I think everyone can hear the difference between the tones (very few people are actually tone deaf), but our brains aren't used to registering the differences in sounds so quickly, therefore we can only focus on the differences we can detect, like those between different syllables, and we think that chinese people don't care about tones.

Actually every language has intonation, so everyone can register intonation differences quickly. It is simply a matter of learning to hear the intonation of Mandarin. Actually I believe the best method for learning both listening and speaking in Mandarin is the "chorus method" described elsewhere on this forum. It is good since it gives very good results very quickly.

The reason being that when you speak in unison with a recording you automatically adjust your voice so it matches the intonation of the recording. Thus in a very short time you will be able to say mandarin sentences with very good pronunciation. The key is then to repeat a sentence enough times so that the sound of it stays in your head. Actually I believe that native speakers of tonal languages do not analyze every syllable in a sentence. The hear in chunks and judge a persons accent on whether theses chunks sound correct or not. Small children don't learn language by trying to put isolated syllables together to sentences. They learn the intonation and rhythm first, before they start to understand the different parts of a sentence. This is quite important for mandarin learning, since most of mandarin pronunciation teaching is done in the complete opposite direction.

I.e. start with isolated syllables and build up to full sentences.

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nipponman
It is simply a matter of learning to hear the intonation of Mandarin.

yeah, thats what I meant

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