I would like to start recognizing tones, accents and stresses in languages I already know. Are there efficient ways to do this?

For a little more background : I have recently become aware of the phenomenon of pitch accents (here and here, although the articles are far too advanced for me) after starting to learn Mandarin tones.

Interestingly, Japanese (where I can follow and participate in simple conversations) seems to have a pitch accent. English and German, though mostly stress-based from what I can read, also appear to use pitch changes in some cases. I'm hoping to train my brain to recognize those accents in languages I know and use, in hopes to be able to learn them better, and eventually to improve my speech.

  • 2
    Interesting, the Wikipedia article lists a few different types of tones (I had no idea this was a thing, so this is really cool for me): register, contour, and the less-defined pitch-accent. Ok, let me get lost in the Internet for the next while...
    – Hatchet
    Aug 3, 2018 at 21:35
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    Hehe, seems I lured another foolish adventurer into this maze of linguistics! :)
    – F.X.
    Aug 3, 2018 at 21:38
  • What do you mean by "languages you already know"? I would guess that for many languages with a tonal component learning it is a rather important initiation step... It isn't so much of an issue in Japanese as far as I know, but in Mandarin at least it's almost stereotypically vital?
    – Hatchet
    Aug 6, 2018 at 20:58
  • I'm hoping that understanding the language will let me catch and get accustomed to pitch changes while casually listening to people speaking. If that's a thing?
    – F.X.
    Aug 6, 2018 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


Since this question isn't a , I will answer from personal experience and Internet.

The closest to a tonal language that I have studied is Japanese, which only goes as far as pitch-accent (so it doesn't really count). However, throughout my involvement in my university's Asian language department and social experiences I've had contact with a few native English speakers learning Mandarin.

I asked one of my acquaintances who is learning Mandarin, who explained (parenthetical statements mine):

Part of it (recognizing tones) is experience, but a lot is context, deciding what makes the most sense for ... the circumstance

They (the tones) are reasonably distinct

[P]racticing speaking it actually helps you hear them better too

One more piece of advice I can give is to not rely on songs for learning to recognize the tones. As this answer on Chinese.SE pointed out:

In songs, most tones disappear. The syllables are sung along the melody of music.

And I have heard similar in the Japanese learning community. This sentiment may not be applicable across the board, but it applies to at least two of the languages you mentioned.

  • The bit about songs is interesting, I initially thought about using lyrics. I will... try to apply your comment about context on some of what I hear. Will report back when I hear some changes :)
    – F.X.
    Aug 7, 2018 at 21:44

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