3 Different Tone Problems and How to Solve Them


Anyone who’s interested to learn Chinese in Singapore would know that Mandarin is a tonal language. He or she might also have apprehensions about learning this beautiful language because of the same reasons.

Well, truthfully, learning tones is an extremely interesting journey. Unfortunately, though, it is rarely ever a short one. However, learning tones is a necessity. Without it, you won’t get far in your attempt to become fluent in Mandarin.

Most students who join Mandarin classes Singapore ask one question: how much time one needs to master the different tones?

Actually, there’s no fixed answer to this question. It all depends on three factors:

  1. How well you perceive speech sounds?
  2. How much time are you able to devote to practicing Mandarin?
  3. How much being able to pronounce Mandarin correctly matters to you?

With only one of these three, you’ll probably never be able to master the tones. If you have two of these, you might get there, but it will take a long time. With all three covered, you should coast along fine with regular practice.

Here are a few most common tone problems and suggestions on how to overcome them

Unable to hear the tones

This is the most obvious problem. You hear your teacher saying for umpteenth time syllables have more tones than one and each mean a different thing. However, you are unable to distinguish an iota of difference between mā má mǎ mà. Or perhaps you can distinguish a difference between them, but you can’t lay your finger on what exactly it is.

Well, all this normal, so don’t worry. Only through regular and varied exposure, one can teach the brain to notice the difference between different tones. This is not something you can learn in a jiffy. Practice listening Chinese and soon the difference between tones will become as clear as day and night.

You’re unable to produce basic tones

Ok, you can hear the difference between tones alright but are not able to produce them. Well, this is another common problem. You can fix the problem by doing two things: listen and mimic native Chinese speakers and request someone to listen to you speak Chinese and give feedback.

Start by mimicking the manner in which native speakers pronounce tones. Pay attention to how your teacher speaks and hear Chinese audio. The other thing you must rope in the help of someone who’s competent at giving feedback, preferably your teacher.

Forgetting the correct tone

Even when you can distinguish the difference between tones and can pronounce these tones, you can get them wrong in case you don’t memorize which tone a particular word has or in case you remember the wrong tone.

The solution is simple. You should focus not only on remembering the word and the way it’s written but also on memorizing tones. In other words, if you are learning Chinese, you got to learn the tones. There are no two ways about it. So take the cue and practice learning tones as much as possible.

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