If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you might have stumbled upon my daily tone quizzes. I find weird and wonderful objects from day-to-day life and teach you how to recognize tone pairings. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed before you go to sleep, inject a small pebble of study time into your day.
Did you read last weeks article about how to fit learning Chinese into a hectic schedule?
Tones — The Basics
There are four tones in Chinese.
The first tone is flat. Listen along to the video above for the audio. I don’t care what your Chinese friends tell you, or what your books say, it’s just a flat tone. You can’t worry about whether it’s high or low, it’s just flat. They are even, there is no fluctuation in your voice when pronouncing this tone.
The second tone is rising. This tone is actually longer than the other tones. If you make your voice go from a lower pitch to a higher pitch and hold it longer than the other three tones, a Chinese person will recognise this as a second tone.
The third tone. Books describe this tone as a “V.” They tell you to drop your voice first then raise your voice back up again. That is not true. Chinese people talk really quickly. When they speak, they do what I call a ‘creaky voice.’ It’s like a frog voice. It’s shallow, and it’s short.
The fourth tone. Quick. Exaggerated. It starts high, and it drops low super quickly. It’s abrupt. It’s a little bit angry.
Some of you said that when you first started listening to Chinese speakers, it sounded like they were fighting. It’s because of this last tone.
Still struggling? Listen along to the video above for the audio.
Want to practice your tones every day?
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Why Are Tones So Hard?
In my WeChat groups, we practice tones daily. The thing I see students struggle with the most is when there are two tones together.
Two fourth tones
So, what happens when you have two fourth tones? You can have two very quick, short words. However, the first one starts a little higher and the second word is a little lower. They both drop, but the second one drops a little lower.
A lot of people struggle with the two consecutive fourth tones because they start too low, to begin with. The second fourth tone is then higher than the first one, which is incorrect because a Chinese person hears that as a third tone and then a fourth tone.
A third tone that comes before a second tone
These tones connect. The second tone starts at the pitch that your third tone finishes at. They actually shift a little bit. So, if your third tone finishes a little bit low, your second tone will begin at that pitch and then rise.
Thanks so much. I’ve almost mastered
tones thanks to your Instagram Stories.
— Elementary Chinese Student
It’s not all about the pitch
It’s also about the length of the tone. The third and fourth tones are very short. The second tone is longer than all of the other tones and the first tone is a natural (normal) length.
If you say the correct pitch but use the incorrect length that will be confusing for a Chinese speaker.
What tone do you struggle with the most? Comment below and I’ll help you perfect your tones.
A quick and important disclosure:
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I recommend them because they are helpful and useful.
The Great Firewall of China
Want to use the VPN I use for a stable, quick connection in China? I depend on it to upload more than six videos a week and live-stream on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. And here’s my second choice for a VPN. Plus, when you download from either link, they share some of the cost with me, so I can keep creating the videos you love.