A question about tones

Hey all,

As some of you know, around 10 months ago I embarked on my first serious language
learning journey with Mandarin Chinese. I have made a lot of progress, and I am
generally happy with the direction things are going in. I had a question for other
people who have learned Mandarin or other tonal languages to fluency.

The question is this…When, if ever, did you reach a point when you stopped thinking
about the tones of certain words when speaking?

Right now, I find that my speech will sometimes be a bit broken because I am thinking
about the tones of a word (I use pinyin when learning vocabulary). In my mind, the
only way to actually get past this hurdle would be have an aural memory of enough words
for fluent speech. Meaning, every word you use in speech will be one you have listened
to many times before, so you just associate the word with it’s “sound” as opposed to
it’s tone. This would require a truly massive amount of input.

If anyone has any insight into this matter please let me know. I would love to learn
about how other people got past this point and what helped them.

Take care


This is normal for people seriously studying Mandarin. You have made the first step which is realizing that the tones are essential. But now you are thinking about them too much and that will inhibit your production. What you need to do is on the one hand continue to ensure that you learn the correct tone for EVERY word. On the other hand, increase your exposure to spoken Mandarin. They key is learning the rhythm of phrases and sentences that will allow you to accurately produce the tones you know. These rhythm need to be internalized. One good way to do this is to watch Mandarin language TV shows like soap operas and talk shows. When a character on screen says something, try to repeat as much as you can without thinking and without worrying about whether you understand what you are saying. At first you may only be able to repeat a phrase or two, but eventually you will be able to imitate whole sentences. Avoid news or dubbed movies from Hong Kong since these are not as natural as Taiwanese soap operas.

Another thing you can do is practice pinyin dictation writing. Listen to a text you have the tones for and transcribe what you hear. This will sharpen your ear.

Notice the emphasis on listening as a way to gain mastery over tones. The problem with beginners is that they have a theoretical idea of how the tones work that does not correspond to how tones are actually produced in the rhythm of real speech. This causes all kinds of frustrating errors. You need to listen and imitate.

Even if you don’t do these things, you will eventually get the tones down if you actively memorize the correct tone and live in Taiwan for a few years. It works by osmosis not brute force. Take your time and don’t worry about it.

Don’t have time just now, but – directional gestures plus tonal spelling. Works miracles on tones.

Haha, I don’t quite understand, but if you do have time in the future I would love to hear more!

There’s some here: forumosa.com/taiwan/viewtopi … 9&start=80
Scroll down a bit. I’m talking about tone gestures linked with meaning gestures to express/represent the same word.

I adapted Ironlady’s TOP Pinyin to my flashcard decks for my study, and that helped substantially.