The Challenge – Speaking in tones

Chinese speak their language using 4 tones.
Instead of trying to describe how each tone sounds, have a look at this video. Western languages use tones as well, albeit on the sentence level. For instance, a rising tone towards the end of the sentence indicates a question. The parallel stops here. As you can conclude from the video, Chinese apply tones on the word level to express a different meaning altogether.

Pronouncing the tone of an individual word is not a problem. Getting all tones correct on each word in a complete sentence is difficult. We don’t want to say: “My horse made my lunch”, now do we ?

Understanding a sentence requires having recognized the tone on each word. The tones are often very subtle to the inexperience ear ( if at all expressed correctly by the speaker, we’re not all speaking Oxford English either ). This adds complexity to which we are not used. When listening to a text, I find myself trying to match words, of which I didn’t clearly recognize the tone, with the context. In the meantime trying to keep up with the ongoing conversation. This usually does not end well.

To practice, I record my voice while reading texts out loud and play it back to check whether I got it right. Also, I have a series of recorded texts to which I listen regularly. My car – while in a traffic jam – serves me well here. It’s a tedious process, but it slowly helps me getting used to the tonality of the language.

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One Response to The Challenge – Speaking in tones

  1. Pingback: The challenge – A language with a complex character « Willy Druyts learns Chinese

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