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Lesson Transcript

Hi everyone.
Welcome to The Ultimate Chinese Pronunciation Guide.
In this lesson, you'll learn about the tones in Chinese.
Tone is the use of pitch to distinguish meaning and it is an integral part of the Chinese language.
Just like how mispronouncing a sound or misreading a character can have a huge impact on meaning, using the wrong tone can drastically change the meaning of a word or sentence too.
It is therefore crucial that you learn how to use tones correctly.
There are theoretically a total of 5 tones in Chinese. 4 main tones, which inflect a change in relative pitch and 1 tone which is completely neutral.
The tones are...
Neutral 吗
High tone 妈
Rising tone 麻
Falling and rising tone 马
and falling tone. 骂
As you can see, using the wrong tone can be detrimental to communication!
So let's go through them one by one.
吧 ba "final particle"
Though it isn't officially recognized as a tone in Chinese, we should talk a little bit about what it means to be neutral.
To deliver something in a neutral tone, is to say it in the most comfortable range without any changes in stress or pitch during delivery.
了 le "final particle"
It's the least amount of effort required to deliver something.
You must realise that all other tones are relative to the *neutral tone*.
What this means is that a high tone is only high relative to the speakers normal, neutral range.
So the neutral tone is like the *base* for all other tones.
Neutral syllables do not need to be marked with any accents in written notation.
"1: HIGH TONE" The first tone, is the high tone. It's marked with a horizontal line above the letter.
It sounds like this...
书 shū "book"
It's pronounced high and steady, and the pitch should be kept at the highest range that's comfortable for you.
包 bāo "bag"
The key point here is to keep it even across the whole syllable.
书包 shūbāo "school backpack"
Now you try!
书包 shūbāo "school backpack"
"2: RISING TONE" The second tone, is the rising tone. It's marked with a rising diagonal line going from left to right.
It sounds like this...
人 rén "people"
It has a rising intonation and kind of sounds like your asking a question.
烦 fán "to annoy/to be annoyed"
You should start from a comfortable range and then rise from there.
烦人 fánrén "annoying"
Now you try!
烦人 fánrén "annoying"
"3: FALLING AND RISING TONE" The third tone, is the falling and rising tone. It's marked with an upwards semi-circle.
It sounds like this...
好 hǎo "good"
This tone is often the most challenging for many students of Chinese.
Starting from around mid-range, dip to the very bottom of your range until you feel like something is stuck in your throat and then rise quickly to clear it! 脚 jiǎo "foot"
Using hand gestures while trying to pronounce this tone really helps.
The key point here is *bouncing off* from the *deepest* part of your range.
雪 xuě "snow"
Now you try!
雪 xuě "snow"
"4: FALLING TONE" The fourth and final tone, is the falling tone. It's marked with a falling diagonal line going from left to right.
It sounds like this...
下 xià "next/down/to get off"
It sounds like a fast, sharp drop. English speakers often associate this tone as being angry sounding.
课 kè "class/lesson"
It might help to imagine a pencil dropping as you're pronouncing this tone.
下课 xiàkè "to finish class"
Now you try!
下课 xiàkè "to finish class"
Now you know how to produce tones in Chinese!
In the next lesson, we'll cover tone change rules in Chinese.
Do you have tones in your Language? Please comment and share your thoughts.
See you in the next Ultimate Chinese Pronunciation Guide lesson!