All Chinese words have a tone of some sort. The Chinese language has four pronounced tones, which in pinyin are marked with a little symbol above the vowel to which they relate, and a short, less prominent tone, called the ‘light tone, ‘ is given no tone marker (see table below).

Tone number Tone name Tone symbol Alternative tone name
Tone 1 high tone ā soprano tone
Tone 2 rising tone á enquiring tone
Tone 3 falling rising tone ă sarcastic tone
Tone 4 falling tone à emphatic tone
No tone number
or tone 5
light tone a (no symbol) quiet tone

The tones could also be given alternative names according to what they sound like in English. Its Chinese names can be translated as flat, up, go, enter (平、上、去、入), which does not make good sense for English speakers.

Often spoken Chinese is so fast that it is difficult to pick out individual tones. Overemphasizing or mispronouncing tones as a beginner can sound quite hideous. Including tones (though vital to true pinyin) makes writing or typing Chinese a more tedious process. So, Chinese words, when adopted into other languages, are relieved of their tones. For these reasons, many beginners ignore tones, and that ignorance creates trouble to fix it later on (or speak with a strong accent).

Tones in English and most foreign languages are only used to express emotions. For example, the tones of sentences that express questions and exclamations will change. However, the tone of Chinese is used to determine which word it is, and it cannot be wrong, especially when using a single character word, the words are different with different tones, for example:

Standard Chinese (Mandarin) has four tones: Other Chinese dialects might have as many as six or seven tones (e.g. Cantonese). Many jokes are related to the improper usage of tones.

But we only discuss the description of the four tones in Mandarin here. The best way to understand it is to use the staff (five-level lines to record musical notes) method designed by Mr. Zhao Yuanren; four tones can be written as flat (55), up (35), go (214), and enter (51). It is a bit of good advice to beginners not to start a flat tone too low (for example, 22 or 33); it will then be difficult to read the correct tone of the Chinese character after it.

Tones are not only a very unique and essential content in Chinese learning but also the most sensitive and incomprehensible part of the Chinese phonetic structure. For learners who use Chinese as a second language, they have different native backgrounds. If there are tones in some mother tongues, but the tones are different from those in Chinese, students will be disturbed by the tones in the mother tongue, and they will often borrow the tones of the mother tongue to replace the Chinese tones. For students whose mother tongue has no tone (you as an English speaker), they tend to ignore the importance of tone to Chinese. Generally speaking, pronunciation errors are classified into two types: curve shape errors and curve value errors. Shape errors refer to errors in the pronunciation curve, such as turning the rising tone into a flat tone. Value error refers to, for example, a tone that is up, although the curve is rising, the starting or ending point of the pronunciation is too high or too low, which will cause the wrong tone. According to the survey, it is more difficult for international students to learn tone 2 (35) and tone 3 (214), and the error rate of tone value is higher than that of tone 1 (55) and tone 4Qusheng (51).

The starting point of tone 2 (35) and tone 3 (214) is relatively low, while tone 2 (35) has a very high ending pitch. Students cannot be sure where the ending point is when they pronounce a tone 2 (35) character so that errors will occur. The pronunciation of tone 3 (214) is also challenging. Students cannot be sure where the sound rises after it is straightened, and errors will occur.

Given the types, causes and learning difficulty of tone errors of Chinese learners with different native language backgrounds, researchers have proposed different tones teaching sequences. In general, according to the order of teaching from easy to difficult, for Japanese and Korean students, the tones of one, four, two, and three can be used. For European and American students, the teaching sequence of one, four, three, and two is adopted. As for students from other background, further research is advised.

For self-study, we created a student-centered approach, using the human synaesthetic effect, and using “music” and “emotion” as an intermediary bridge to guide students and images to deepen the impression. For example, using auditory sensibility, first make students realize that the tones of Chinese are nothing more than the pitch of the voice, the melody, and the notes of music. See lesson : Tone in staff

xué hǎo shēng yùn biàn sì shēng , yīn yáng shǎng qù yào fēn míng
bù wèi fāng fǎ xū zhǎo zhǔn , kāi qí hé cuō shǔ kǒu xíng
shuāng chún bān bào bì bǎi bō , dǐ shé dāng dì dòu diǎn dīng
shé gēn gāo gǒu kēng gēng gù , shé miàn jī jié jiāo jiān jīng
qiào shé zhǔ zhēng zhēn zhì zhào , píng shé zī zé zǎo zài zēng
cā yīn fā fān fēi fēn fù , sòng qì chá chái chǎn chè chēng
hé kǒu hū wǔ kū hú gǔ , kāi kǒu hé pō gē ān zhēng
cuō kǒu xū xué xún xú jù , qí chǐ yī yōu yáo yè yīng
qián bí ēn yīn yān wān wěn , hòu bí áng yíng zhōng yōng shēng
yǎo jǐn zì tóu guī zì wěi , yīn yáng shǎng qù jì biàn shēng
xún xù jiàn jìn jiān chí liàn , bù nán dá dào chún hé qīng