How to learn or improve my tones?

Is there any simple method or excerise to improve your tones… people have said that my pronounciation in Chnese is ok… but sometimes my tones are off…
I am afraid at this point I am tne deaf and have been hardwired into saying the wrong tones

me too. i’m certain i’m tone deaf. i’m so self-conscious about my tones it keeps me from practicing. i don’t know how many times i’ve told people i love chemistry when i really mean to say skiing. and butter instead of no (nai yo) and god, i could go on forever with my tone shuck-ups.

[quote=“TNT”]Is there any simple method or excerise to improve your tones… people have said that my pronounciation in Chnese is ok… but sometimes my tones are off…
I am afraid at this point I am tne deaf and have been hardwired into saying the wrong tones[/quote]

Start with some phrases you know well but are still having difficulty pronouncing with the proper tones. Have a native speaking friend record them for you and then listen to the recordings, practicing along with them. For new phrases, try the same thing.

Record yourself and listen to the recording. Can you find the tonal errors?

Another great way is to learn the sanzijing. Tapes and cds of it are widely available and practicing along with the tapes and cds is a great way to improve your tones as well as pronunciation. It worked wonders for me.

As will be cited in an upcoming article I will hopefully be publishing in some forward-looking tome of learning, TPR is good for Chinese. Associate one, unique gesture with each word you want to learn. But here’s the differnence – when you think up the gesture (doesn’t have to make sense, just be consistent and practice it with the word) make sure that the direction of your hand movement coincides with the tone. See? For a first tone, the movement must be high and level; for second tone, it must rise; for third tone, it must be low; for fourth tone, it must fall.

I have NEVER seen a student forget a tone if they use this method. In fact, I’ve had students forget the phonetic form of the word, but remember the tone. Never saw that before using this method.

(Tonal TPR for Chinese © 2000-2003 by me, etc. etc. etc.)

Also: ditch standard Pinyin and use tonal spelling (Tonally Orthographic Pinyin [TOP]). This gives you a better visual memory of the tone. Also use color-coding if the problem seems dire (i.e., blue for first tone [sky!], green for second tone [growing things], orange for third tone [left over and more visible on the computer screen] and red for fourth tone [anger].)

TOP system: use standard Pinyin spelling, but instead of adding the tone marks later, use capital and small letters to differentiate, thus:

FIRST TONE: all caps MA ZHUANG
seconD tonE: lasT letteR capitalizeD: mA zhuanG
third tone: all small ma zhuang
Fourth Tone: First Letter Cap: Ma Zhuang
neutral tone can be marked with an * following all-lower-case ma*

Especially on a computer, this demands that you pay attention to the tone as an integral part of the syllable, instead of just pecking on a number at the end as an afterthought.

Of course, if you truly believe you are tone-deaf and cannot differentiate between two pitches, PM me and we’ll see. I once coached a tone-deaf man to sing in a production of “Evita”. There are ways. :smiling_imp:

My Chinese is reasonable but I am tonally impaired (lazy study habits at the outset of learning) and I’m thinking that it would be awfully nice to be corrected by locals with a unified TPR tonal thingy. They’re lazier than we are at correcting their English when you think about it. Especially since we’ve decided to call this place home.

HG

[quote=“ironlady”]TOP system: use standard Pinyin spelling, but instead of adding the tone marks later, use capital and small letters to differentiate, thus:

FIRST TONE: all caps MA ZHUANG
seconD tonE: lasT letteR capitalizeD: mA zhuanG
third tone: all small ma zhuang
Fourth Tone: First Letter Cap: Ma Zhuang
neutral tone can be marked with an * following all-lower-case ma*[/quote]

Ironlady, I am sure this system will be giving Cranky Laowai nightmares. :wink:

I’ve been using it since 1995. He already detests it, I’m sure.

But wait till he gets his teeth into our Tonally Orthographic Minnan (TOM) for Taiwanese language! (Even I have to look up the rules for THAT one now and then.) :laughing:

But really, I believe this is what we need: a bunch of Westerners thinking about how Westerners learn Chinese, and devising methods to make that easier. Even though “you Westerners don’t know anything about teaching Chinese”…

[quote=“ironlady”]

I have NEVER seen a student forget a tone if they use this method. In fact, I’ve had students forget the phonetic form of the word, but remember the tone. Never saw that before using this method.

:[/quote]

For many, the problem isn’t simply forgetting tones; it’s the inability to reproduce them accurately. It doesn’t help that a lot of the language schools here don’t seem particularly interested in helping to improve their students’ pronunciation. And the locals. . .well, they generally expect us to make a mess of pronunciation and tones anyway, and if we even get them half-right, they go overboard in their praise of our ‘language skills’.

Well, first of all the physical motion helps by reinforcing the voice contour with kinesthetics, which helps in performance. We use the same technique in training singers who are, well, less talented. :wink:

But failure to produce correct tones is not due merely to problems in production of tones. Many students can produce tones when “cued” in isolation, but cannot do it in a communicative situation. Obviously, there are several factors operating:

a) The student may have “forgotten” which tone.
b) The student cannot manage to produce “everything” at once (new segmental sounds, new tones, new grammar, new vocabulary, plus looking both ways twice before crossing the street in Taipei!)
c) The student can produce the tones, and knows which ones they should be, but the tones are “blotted out” by interference from the student’s native language. For English speakers, one example is the question intonation – the whole sentence going upwards. For native Russian speakers, it’s the tendency to end every sentence, including interrogatives, by going down. And so on.
d) It’s a performance error – just a slip of the tongue.
e) There are other sources of overload (emotional, informational, etc.) A very good simultaneous interpreter friend of mine, who is a native Chinese speaker, regularly loses his tones when working from English into Chinese, just because there’s “too much to process.” Something has to give.

This “something has to give” is the mechanism underlying language acquisition. The way language is commonly taught in the classroom, too much material is covered too fast, which means that the brain just can’t keep up. I mean “keep up” in terms of ACQUIRING an automatic control of the material “covered”, not in terms of managing to memorize items or characters and pass tests.

Yes, there is a tiny minority of people who just are not tonally inclined. But they are a VERY small minority. If you take the hundreds of people who claim they can’t sing, and give them a half-hour of coaching, 99.99% of them CAN sing. It might be a bit nasal, and their tone might not be lovely, but they can certainly match pitches and move their voice up or down when they want to. The degree of trickery necessary to accomplish this varies with the individual, but I have never known it to be impossible (and I used to be a musical director for a not-very-rich theatre in the DC area for 8 years; i.e., we took what we got in terms of auditionees. After teaching a rugby team to sing [West Side Story] and getting a tone-deaf guy through ‘Evita’, the four tones of Mandarin aren’t that daunting from a pedagogical perspective.) :laughing:

Ironlady. please can you tell me what is TPR?

I believe, but not too sure, that TPR is using physical movements as a mnemonic. For example, associating different hand movements with the different tones, maybe physicals movements are easier to remember. I’d best let a teacher explain it…

Now we know that the tones in Chinese use a different part of the brain than we are normally use for speaking, maybe some techniques will be developed to exercise that part of the brain ?

TPR

Total Physical Response is a language learning method based on the coordination of speech and action.

HG

totally agree…it’s not that “we” foreigners don’t know the tones, it’s just that “we” are not used to reproduce them. The problem is, that nobody tells us, that we’re saying it wrong…

I edit academic papers for a laboratory in Taiwan that does MRI research on language, mostly Chinese reading. I told the guy recently I could probably get a bunch of volunteers if he wanted to see if there were any differences in which parts of the brain “light up” when foreigners who ahve acquired Chinese after another language speak or read…don’t know if he’s serious about it or not but he just might, who knows!! It would be interesting to know if there are differences compared to native speakers. I wouldn’t think there are great differences, but if there were any, it might point to some better strategies for us.

TPR stands for “Total Physical Response”, developed by James Asher in the 1960s. He touted it as a complete system for learning a language. You do associate physical movements with words, but Asher doesn’t use specific gestures for the most part – his TPR is concerned with responding to commands, which shows the teacher that you ahve understood without requiring you to speak before you are ready to speak. (The brain research shows that you aren’t doing yourself any favors speaking before the word is “in” your brain – when it is, you will start to use it naturally, and that requires having encountered it 50-70 times for most beginners. That’s the repetition factor that 99% of classes do NOT give because they are concerned with ‘covering’ more.)

Asher claims you can learn ALL of a language this way – abstract concepts are represented by symbols on the blackboard, for example, for teaching, so a command might be, “Get up, walk to the chalkboard, and touch ‘tyranny’,” or something like that. IMHO not a method useful for 100% acquisition but it is very useful in the elementary stages, particularly because it allows the rapid acquisition of a large passive vocabulary before demanding that students speak in more than 1- or 2-word sentences. I think this helps greatly with phonology (read: tones!) too, as it lets the brain “get” the words before forcing it to juggle so many balls at the same time (see my earlier post in this thread).

I do NOT teach pure TPR, but I use some TPR and many of my own modifications to TPR specifically for Chinese as a tonal language.

What I would like to do is to get a buxiban to roster me for classes, so that people can take from me and have a visa. I can’t show much if I only have students once a week, and then it’s too easy to say, “Oh, you see? That method doesn’t work.” I’m on faculty (officially) at one Chinese language school in Taipei, but they delicately refused to offer me as a teacher to actual students, because “the students all want native speaking teachers.” (Based on extensive market surveys, no doubt! :unamused: )

Anyway…

actually i started studying chinese in mainland with hand movements for every tone. i admit, it helps one to realize how the different tones should actually be pronounced and how to distinguish them. but once one understood that, i personally think, that one doesn’t need to move ones hand anymore with every single word. just makes your arm sore, that’s it…

i also believe that non native speakers make better teachers than native speakers without the appropriate education. i wouldn’t be able to teach or explain the grammar of my mother tongue, since i never studied it. on the contrary i feel quite confident, that i would be able to explain the grammar of languages i myself had to learn. so why not hire non native speakers, if their language abilities are really great?

Because “we Chinese” know what “you foreigners” want, and what you need. (I’m not saying ALL Chinese are like this, but it seems to go hand in hand with getting into a position of power.) :unamused:

I see I should have been paying attention to this thread earlier. :laughing:

Well, it’s true that I don’t care at all for tonal spellings as part of a full writing system. And the thought of having to copyedit texts written with that probably would give me nightmares. As a pedagogical method, however, whatever works is fine by me. Heaven knows most methods used to teach Mandarin and related languages are not so good. I tend to trust ironlady’s judgment on such matters.

I strongly agree.

Since TOP is only Pinyin with weird uses of capital and small letters, I think we can campaign together…TOP for pedagogy, Pinyin for everything else. What’cha think? All we need now is a catchy slogan and a cheap T-shirt printer. :laughing:

“TOP for pedagogy, Pinyin for everything else” isn’t catchy enough for you ? :unamused:

Too long for the average chest size in Taiwan, ain’t it?? :laughing: