The four tones in Mandarin Chinese are one of the most important aspects of Chinese pronunciation, so it’s important to get really familiar with them.
But how do you put the tones into practice when you’re speaking the language?
For most people, that’s the hard part, so I’ll guide you through it.
The good thing is that there are only a small number of combinations that the four tones can come in, and I’ll help you to practise all of them.
If you can get really used to saying the different combinations of the tones, what they sound like and what the patterns feel like, then it makes things much easier.
We’ll practise the patterns in tone pairs with two syllable words, (then it’s not that hard to move onto three syllable words, it’s just the same, with an extra syllable on the front, same with four syllable phrases)
Then, when you are really familiar with the tone patterns, you’ll start to hear them again and again, and you’ll find them much easier to say – they’ll come more naturally. You’ll also find them easier to pick out.
Then, the next step is to get into the rhythm of words in full sentences. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; I’ll come to that in a future post.
The five videos below will give you loads of practice of all the tone combinations. Make sure you repeat after all the recordings, so you really get into the feel of the patterns yourself.
To make things even easier for visual learners, I’m using mini graphs to make the pitch changes really clear, as well as my own system to colour code the four tones, and syllables that are unstressed (some people call this the ‘neutral tone’).
Most books don’t have pretty colours, so also be aware of the tone marks on top of the syllables (mā má mǎ mà)
Rather than trying to explain everything in writing, it’s better to pick this up through practice, so watch the videos and give it a go, then you’ll understand how everything works!
Tone pairs starting with the first tone
Tone pairs starting with the second tone
Tone pairs starting with the third tone
Tone pairs starting with the fourth tone
Tone pairs where the second syllable is unstressed (in the neutral tone)
Remember, practice makes perfect. It does take time to internalise these patterns, and get your mouth around them, so it’s a good idea to practise a bit at a time, and go over these videos a few times 🙂
And if you’ve got any questions, just leave them in the box below and I’ll get back to you!