The Chinese pinyin system includes three parts: shengmu (initial), yunmu (final), and shenɡdiào (tones), and the tones in Mandarin are very important. Even if the initial and final are the same but have a different tone, the meaning will be different. So if you really want to master this language, you must learn to make each tone very clearly, otherwise you may not be understood by Chinese speakers.
There are four different tones and one “natural” tone in Mandarin. So pronouncing each distinctly is important.
The first tone should be high and flat without any change. The mark is “-” .
The second tone should go up, as when asking a question. The mark is “/”.
The third tone goes down first then up. The mark is “√”.
The forth tone goes from top to bottom. The mark is “\”.
The natural tone should be very light and short; there is no mark for it.
When you practice the tones, here are some tips to help you:
1. Practice the four tones one by one.
Read all the same tones together in order to remember the position of tones. In the beginning should be a single word, then a phrase, and last the whole sentence.
For example, practice for the third tone:
Single word: wǒ 我(I); kǎ 卡(card); děnɡ 等(wait)
Phrase: nǐhǎo 你好 (hello); shǒubiǎo 手表 (watch); xiǎojiě 小姐 (Miss)
Sentence: Wǒ xiǎnɡ mǎi shuǐɡuǒ。我想买水果 。
2. After you understand how to pronounce each standard tone, the next step is learn how to pronounce them in combination within words.
1+2: jīnnián 今年 (this year)
1+3: duōshǎo 多少 (how much)
1+4: jīpiào 机票 (ticket)
2+1: huíjiā 回家 (go home)
4+4+3: duìbùqǐ 对不起 (sorry)
3. Once you get a feel for the standard tones of Mandarin, try to read some simple Chinese essays. Listen to a recording or follow along with a video to make sure your pronunciation is correct. Also, watching a Chinese drama or other TV show will be helpful to develop listening skills.
Listen to the tape and follow with the video to make sure your own pronunciation is correct. Watch Chinese drama and TV show, to see how did the Chinese talk.
4. Videos about how to master the Chinese four tones
The above tips are recommended for students who can practice by themselves. But for those who need support the best way is to find a professional Chinese teacher. She or he will show you how to systematically remember correct pronunciation and can immediately help you when you make a mistake. A good teacher can help you progress quickly, supporting you to reach your learning goals.