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Learning Experience Sharing: Remembering Chinese Tones

I am from Spain and recently I lived and worked in Shenyang for 7 months where I learned Chinese by myself, including talking with my Chinese friends and coworkers. One month ago I began taking Chinese lessons as I felt it was necessary. One of the main obstacles I found was how to remember the tones of the words. So this is the study routine that I come up with one of the chapters of a Chinese book I have and I want to share it with you.

Firstly I’d take a look of the words with their pinyin, tones, their characters and their meaning in your native language. Usually when you are a beginner it is around 10 to 15 words in the first lessons and then until 30 new words in the last ones. These examples are the words proposed in the chapter 5 of my book:

  • 有 (yǒu) to have
  • 几 (jǐ) how many
  • 本 (běn) used for books of various kinds
  • 两 (liǎng) two
  • 都 (dōu) all
  • 多少 (duōshǎo) how much, how many
  • 个 (gè) Measure word
  • 朋友 (péngyou) friend
  • 班 (bān) class
  • 男 (nán) male
  • 女 (nǚ) female
  • 留学生 (liúxuéshēng) international student abroad
  • 和 (hé) and

Once I have looked at the new words, I’d read the sentences proposed by the book or by the teacher. I would try reading the characters instead of the pinyin under the sentences examples. What I do then is write the pinyin in my notebook of every sentence proposed, with the appropriate tones in each word. If I don’t remember the character I will look for it because the main point is to grasp the tones.

Here are some examples:

1-我们 班 同学

2- 一 本 书

3- 他 有几个好朋友?

Then we should write the pinyin with the tones as exercise:

1-Wǒmen bān tóngxué

2-Yī běn shū

3-Tā yǒu jǐ gè hǎo péngyǒu

Typically in textbooks we may find exercises like these ones:

Give quick responses to the questions or Ask each other questions and give responses according to the actual situation:

他们 班 有 多少 人? (How many people are there in their class?)

我们 班 留学生 是 哪国人? (What nationalities are the international students in our class?)

你 有几本词典? (How many dictionaries do you have?)

都 是 汉语 词典 吗? (Are they all Chinese dictionaries?)

Before working on the speaking part, I will do the same process as the prior exercise. I will do the translation again and write the pinyin in my notebook.

Conclusions/ Suggestions:

This way of studying and learning, it is been so useful to me because by doing this process I can work on a lot of aspects. I learn how to remember the tones, the characters and their meaning along with learning to speak Chinese.

At the same time I have learned the sentence structures and I now understand that I just need to make substitutions of the words for the sentence to be correct. I also realized that by learning sentences it is easier to remember the tones that are not word-by-word. If you learn word by word it does not make too much sense to me, because also depending how we combine words and tones, which can change the intonation.

Now that I have been studying Chinese I realized that it is such a musical language due to the 4 tones. Before taking classes and just by listening to what my friends and coworkers were saying, I learned to just imitate the sounds perfectly without knowing that they were using tones. So I encourage everyone to study this beautiful language and hope that my experience as a student will be helpful for other learners!

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Bernat Alabedra

Bernat Alabedra is a Journalist and a Spanish Teacher. He was born in Barcelona but lived in New York the past years. He has recently been living in Shenyang for 7 months and is so passionate in learning Chinese and loves Chinese old culture and philosophy.

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