1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. M's Chinese Course: Pre-Lesso…


M's Chinese Course: Pre-Lesson #1 (Tones)

Hi there! I'm making a (Mandarin) Chinese course for all you people who want to learn Chinese. I hope that this inspires some of you to learn Chinese! Both simplified and traditional characters will be included, too (along with Pinyin).

But before we can go and create our first sentences, we need to deal with pronunciation.

As you may know, Chinese is a tonal language, which means that pitch is used to differentiate meanings. For example:

妈/媽 (mā) — mom

麻 (má) — hemp

马/馬 (mǎ) — horse

骂/罵 (mà) — to scold

吗/嗎 (ma) — interrogative particle

There are four tones in Chinese, and they look like this when drawn:

The first tone (high tone) is pronounced at the highest point of your natural voice range.

The second tone (rising tone) is pronounced like you're asking "What?". It starts in the middle of your natural voice range and rises to the top.

The third tone (falling-rising tone) is a bit tricky. In careful, enunciated speech, it will start at the middle of your natural voice range, go down a bit, and then quickly rise to the top. But when the third tone goes before any other tone, people will only say the first half of it in everyday speech. So you might as well call it a low falling tone at this point, starting at the middle of your voice range and going down a bit, but not rising back up. Also, the third tone is sometimes pronounced as a low neutral tone, staying at the lowest point in your voice range. It's a bit complicated, but once you hear people saying the third tone, it gets easier. And finally, when two third tones are pronounced next to each other, the first third tone will become a second tone. When three third tones are pronounced next to each other, the second third tone will become a second tone. It's a lot to take in, but I added some helpful links at the bottom of this post.

The fourth tone starts at the top of your natural voice range and quickly goes to the bottom. It's like yelling "Hey!" when you're angry.

There's also a neutral tone that's used in grammatical particles and a few other terms (most of which I'll describe in the "Family" section). It's short and brief.

I know it's quite complicated, but I found some really great videos that help a lot.

Tones (from Yoyo Chinese)

the Third Tone (from Yoyo Chinese)

I hope this helped you! I will hopefully make the next lesson soon. And if you liked this, please upvote and leave some feedback; it really helps :)


September 1, 2015


[deactivated user]

    很好,我一想马的v,我就想,“往上,往下”。 声音也是那样的。


    Thanks!! I think we'll see more and more of these courses in the discussion section!


    I used to think this was terrifying, until one day I suddenly realised that it is simply a language with a lot of homophones. English has buckets of homophones itself (check out http://www.homophone.com/), and many words that are differentiated only by stress patterns (eg desert, dessert, incite, insight), so the concept is not completely alien. Just that Chinese runs with it to a whole other level...

    Anyway, I only think of them as High, Low, Rising, Falling. There are so many exhaustive descriptions and explanations of the tones, but that is all it really boils down to, the rest you can work out with your ears.

    Yeah that's simplistic, but it's also a lot easier to take in :P


    You're welcome :)


    谢谢 你 帮 我。:-)


    the best source I have found for getting to know the tones is from the BBC website page on learning Chinese:


    the fourth tone is hardest for me for some reason.


    I also thought the fourth tone was hardest at first, then I realised we default to it all the time in English. When we're certain about something we'd say "Yes." in the fourth tone (and "yes?" in the second tone). We also virtually always swear in the fourth tone.

    I can't comment on the BBC's page, but I found the six tapes of FSI's 'Pronunciation and Romanisation' course really good for teaching the tones and pronunciation in general: http://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/languages/chinese.html


    Hi, For french speakers, there is a short video of wikistage which shows that chinese language is not as difficult as we could imagine : It's easier to remember chinese chars than words because it's some small pictures. They give some examples. What a pity the sound is so bad !


    Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.