How to Recognize and Pronounce the 4+1 Tones of Mandarin

In Beginner Tutorials by Angel Huang

While rising and falling “tones” can be used to express feelings and attitude in English, they don’t affect the literal meaning of the words we say.

For example, to express surprise when your waiter brings you a cup of coffee instead of the tea you ordered, you might say “coffe” with a high rising tone. By changing the tone you use when saying “coffee”, you could express disappointment, anger and a number of other feelings in this situation. However, no matter which tone you use, the meaning of the word stays the same — coffee means coffee. 

In Mandarin, on the other hand, if you change the tone, you change the meaning of the word. For example, “tang” can mean “soup”, “sugar”, “to lie down” or “hot” simply depending on which tone you use… Yikes!

The good news is that the process of going from a point where you have absolutely no awareness of tones, to one where you have a decent enough grasp of them to make yourself understood in basic conversations, can be relatively quick.

The first step is to learn how to recognise and pronounce each of the tones in isolation. To do just that, check out this video.