I regularly meet with a small group of other learners of Standard Chinese. They have been learning Chinese for several years, though not as long as me. One of their problems is pronunciation, especially pronouncing the tones correctly. For example, the fourth tone (a falling tone) does not sufficiently "fall" and the second tone does not sufficiently "rise".

One consequence of the bad pronunciation of the fourth tone is that it is difficult to hear the difference between, for example, 哪里 (nǎlǐ: where?) and 那里 (nàlǐ: there). This can lead to confusion, especially in dialogues where both words are used. (Chinese does not use sentence-level intonation to distinguish between affirmative sentences and questions. So pronouncing question words correctly is essential for understanding.)

How can I help other learners of Standard Chinese to get the tones right? Especially without being a native speaker myself?

  • As a learner of Chinese I realized that I need to stretch vowels for much longer than I do in Russian, or English, but I still struggle with pronouncing tones correctly. – Vitaly Oct 13 '17 at 18:00

How can I help other learners of Standard Chinese to get the tones right? Especially without being a native speaker myself?

You can help learners of Standard Chinese (Mandarin) get the tones right by using carrier sentences (see this article for further detail). A carrier sentence is a sentence with a blank slot for the word you'd like to hear in context. Make sure that the vowels in the words before or after your target word are open rather than close (i.e. "a" rather than "i" or "u"). Also, make sure to have carrier sentences that have different tone types before and after the word you are trying to isolate.

The reason for using carrier sentences is that tones may have different qualities in different environments. Just as the "t" in "water" sounds different than the "t" in "top" (especially in fast, spoken English), the third tone in "nǎ" changes to the second tone in "ná" when followed by another third tone as in "lǐ".

Have a native speaker read the sentences you construct out loud and record them if you are able. Then, you should listen, mimic (repeat after sentence is played), track (repeat while sentence is played), and recite (repeat on your own) those example sentences until you get down how the tones of words sound in different sentence environments.


To practice pronouncing two tones together, such as 哪里 and 那里, you could try tone pair drills.

Chinese has a lot of two-character words and twenty possible combinations of tones and practicing these should help the learners to pronounce words better.

The websites Hacking Chinese and Yoyo Chinese have more information on this topic.

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