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Thai vs Chinese Tones


leosmith
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Hi,

I haven't actually started studying Chinese yet, but I looked at a web site that described the 5 tones. It appears that 4 of the 5 are the same tones used in Thai. The only difference, I think, is that Chinese has a High tone and Thai has a low tone. Can anybody confirm this?

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Not really. Thai has low, mid, and high level tones, though the low tone drops very slightly when you say it. The high level tone goes up very slightly in pitch. There is also a falling tone and a rising tone. There is no dipping tone like in Mandarin.

Mandarin does not have a mid level tone. The falling tone in Mandarin drops a lot more in pitch than the Thai one does.

What website is saying that 4 of the tones in Mandarin are the same? That website seems to be incorrect.

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What website is saying that 4 of the tones in Mandarin are the same? That website seems to be incorrect.
It seems likely that leosmith may have misinterpreted the information, eg: a "high-rising" tone in one language does not mean the same thing as another "high-rising" tone in another.
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Actually, you both may be right. Here's the site:

http://www.chinese-tools.com/learn/chinese/01-phonetics-hello.html

here's the data from it that I tried to interpreted:

Tone- (Mark) Description

1st- (dā) High and level

2nd- (dá) Starts medium in tone, then rises to the top

3rd- (dǎ) Starts low, dips to the bottom, then rises toward the top

4th- (dà) Starts at the top, then falls sharp and strong to the bottom

Neutral- (da) Flat, with no emphasis

and here's my (mis?)interpretation

1st – There is no equivalent Thai tone

2nd – Same as the Thai "high" tone (siang dtrii)

3rd – Same as Thai "rising" tone (siang juttawa)

4th – Same as Thai "falling" tone (siang dtoh)

Neutral – Same as Thai no tone (siang samaan)

Thai "low" tone (siang eek)

(btw - are you guys Thai speakers?)

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My spoken Thai is very basic... I learn a lot better when I learn the writing system first. I am in no position to teach you how to speak. I can give you some advice about writing though.

If you don't know how to write Thai, try copying Thai letters. Strokes begin from the small circle (contained in most of the letters). Took me awhile to figure out. The materials for learning Thai I've seen aren't nearly as good as what is available for Chinese.

In regards to the subject of this thread...

I have a book called "Vocabulary of Chinese" that is intended for Thai people to learn Chinese. The vocabulary is not very up-to-date. However, it does have a phonetics section. It tries to map 4 of the Thai tones to the 4 Mandarin tones. It maps the Thai low tone to the Chinese dipping tone.

I had some Thai people I knew read the Thai equivalents of different pinyin given in the book, and it just did not sound correct. It sounded like Chinese, but it sounded like it could have been a different dialect.

I personally find it easier to understand Chinese spoken without tones than Chinese spoken with Thai tones, but I am not sure what an actual Chinese person would find easier to understand.

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If you don't know how to write Thai, try copying Thai letters. Strokes begin from the small circle (contained in most of the letters). Took me awhile to figure out. The materials for learning Thai I've seen aren't nearly as good as what is available for Chinese.

Actually, I'm a Thai speaker getting ready to start studying Chinese. Sorry, I should have explained that. I was being a wimp, and thinking: sweet, this website says I already know 4 of the 5 tones:mrgreen:

Have you tried "Thai For Beginners"? It has some drawbacks, but the instructions for writing are excellent. I love Thai characters.

I personally find it easier to understand Chinese spoken without tones than Chinese spoken with Thai tones, but I am not sure what an actual Chinese person would find easier to understand.

That is so strange. Yeah, I wonder the same thing. Very interesting.

Thanks a ton everybody.

Leo

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Thai for Beginners is pretty much the only Thai textbook commercially available. I find it a confusing hodge-podge, especially in comparison to Chinese textbooks. At the Thai language school I attend, AUA in Bangkok, they have developed their own textbook instead.

Thai sounds so completely different from Chinese, I don't see how the fact that they are both tonal languages could really help all that much. Perhaps Thai native speakers pick up Chinese a little faster. I don't know. Thai and Cantonese, on the other hand, are more closely related.

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Thai for Beginners is pretty much the only Thai textbook commercially available.

Although there aren't as many as Chinese, there are several others available. Search Amazon if you're interested.

I find it a confusing hodge-podge, especially in comparison to Chinese textbooks. At the Thai language school I attend, AUA in Bangkok, they have developed their own textbook instead.

Interesting. I find Thai for Beginners very straight forward, if not overly simplistic. I didn't care for the AUA text book I saw, due to the strange transliteration system (it was pretty old, so maybe they've revised it). But this is a flaw of many Thai textbooks, including Thai for beginners. To do it right, I think one should learn the written language first, then use a textbook without transliteration. I remember reading reviews on amazon about such a textbook, reputedly the best Thai textbook, but I forget the name.

If you speak a language with tones, it'd be easier to learn the tones of another language.

(But don't expect a perfect correspondence between the tones of the two languages.)

Good point. I'll be sure not to try to just "map" Thai tones to Chinese.

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Sounds good to me. The tones sound like normal speech, rather than exaggerated for learning purposes. To hear what Thai tones sound like, click on the example that you want to hear. If you just click on the tone marks all they do is pronounce the name of the tone mark, which doesn't demonstrate the tone.

Incidently, in Thai, a tone mark doesn't always yield the same tone. That's why it befuddles me to see so many discussions about tone marks (mai) instead of the actual tones (siang). People should know better, but they don't.

BTW - do any of these tones sound like Chinese?

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I think the rising tone sounds like the 2nd tone in Mandarin, low tone -> 3rd, falling tone -> 4th. Of course they are only similar, not the same. Other than those 3, I think the mid tone also sounds like the 3rd tone in Cantonese. I can't map the high tone to a dialect that I know, but I am sure some dialects have that tone.

I am also curious as to what extent Thai is similar to Chinese, since they are usually not considered to be within the Sinitic circle. I've heard Thai numbers, they seem to have come from Chinese.

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  • 3 years later...
  • 1 year later...
One Guy's Effort To Learn Thai In 14 Years (pretty sad):

After reading the story from the link, I have something to share. I've spent the first twenty years of my life in Thailand. Yes I'm fluent in Thai in all communication skills (read/write/talk/listen). While I was in Thailand, I had run into a number of foreigners who spoke Thai. There were two groups of these people. The first one was the short term resident type (think those who came to work in Thailand for a year or two). Their Thai speaking skill was mediocre. The second type was the long term kind (think those who married Thai women and settle down in Thailand or retired people). The second group made an impressive progress in term of speaking (I've never asked any of them to write/read). The guy in your story is pretty unique (IMO). How could he study Thai for 14 years and still only know to speak a little, let alone fluent. Based on conversations that I had with expats, Thai language is only difficult when it comes to speaking (because of the tones) and reading (no space between anything; you pretty much have to know where each word ends).

Thai 5 tones is also a bit different from Chinese 4 tones. We can emulate the sound of Chinese 4 tones easily. We use vowels to help produce better imitations. Not all Thai words can be pronounced in 5 tones. There are two categories: 3 tones and 5 tones. These things are taught in Thai high school (not sure if they are taught in adult Thai language class). The reason Thai students speak weird Chinese because IMO they have Thai Chinese accent. There are many Chinese initial sounds that don't exist in Thai. Thai students can only borrow Thai 5 tones to imitate Chinese tones. However they lack many initial sounds. That explains why they still speak Chinese with an accent. Hope this answer questions on this old thread. :-)

My 2 cents

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I haven't learned Thai thoroughly and gave up, not because of the difficulty but because I can't learn too many languages at the same time. Thai tones are cute, the syllables are usually longer than Mandarin and with good exercises, I reckon they are manageable. They are much simpler than Vietnamese, in any case. Also, there are many words in Thai pronounced in mid-tones, which sound almost like toneless language, which makes speaking in Thai easier.

From what you're describing I can gather that good exercises in Thai tones are missing. Mandarin would also be much harder to learn if there were not enough good exercises.

I only have "Teach Yourself Thai" and "Colloquial Thai". Unlike a few other "Teach Yourself..." books, TYT is very good in presenting the writing and pronunciation. The audio is very clear and too fast. I wish they would add more tone exercises, though.

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Hi altitarev

Yeah the syllable of Thai words are usually much longer than Chinese. However, similar to English, Thai has alphabets which make it easier to guess how to pronounce words that you've never seen (once you recognize the pattern). Unlike Chinese, it's hard to guess how to pronounce Chinese words that you've never seen before. Based on this difference, I think ones would forget Chinese sooner than Thai if they don't get to use the language regularly.

In term of study materials, I wouldn't be surprised that there aren't many. Thai is a far less popular language compared to Chinese. As I mentioned before, people who study and master Thai language are those who settle down (either married or retired there). Hmm... talking about mastering the language and settling down in Thailand remind me of my grandma. She came from China and settled in Thailand for over 50 years. Sadly her Thai language skills still suck (yeah even speaking skill). Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on the guy who spent 17 years learning and gave up. Everyone has different strength and weakness...

Patrick

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The Thai girl in our group has excellent tones, but almost always pronounces her q's as x's. What a pity.

Only q's and x's sounds that she always pronounces wrong? :-) hee hee Listen to her carefully, unless she speaks English or other languages fluently, she should have problems pronouncing these initials: ch, z, c, r, ... just to name a few.

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