I studied Chinese for 3 years in gymnasiet (sixth form/upper secondary) It was essentially what you’d expect of anyone taking a language class at this level. A lot of half-hearted semi-focused work where my brain mostly felt distracted by other things and feeling too drained by the end of the day to study any.
I still struggle a lot with tones. Especially with distinguishing the first and fourth tone. I can barely replicate them. I mean, if I go to a pinyin table I feel like I do just fine, I’m pretty decent at half of the other difficult sounds too. But when reading Chinese I feel like I am doing it for naught when I can barely internalize these tones. I wonder quite regularly if I should try to learn to read Chinese even without being good at the tones? What do you guys think? If you think this is a bad idea, can you give me any advice to improve my listening ability and especially pronunciation ability for the tones? Because they are exaggerated in educational environments which is fair, but there seems to be no material for how they sound authentically.
Also how are you supposed to remember tones when reading extensively? I’d feel like as someone where å ä and ö are regularly used I could just read à and á the same way but I sometimes struggle to remember something as basic as what tone 人 is. Reading extensively I often feel like I forget the tones as soon as I see them, but maybe I put words to known too liberally in Chinese?
I’m not sure if this will be helpful to you but personally I basically just ignore tones when I study Chinese. I just try to emulate how speakers say a word without worrying what tone it is. For me this actually produces better tones because I am just emulating what I hear from native speakers rather than trying to think through the word or character every time I say it. For listening I just sort of slowly pick up on the nuances like tones as I improve my listening ability. Its also worth noting that native speakers often dont use correct tones when they speak so I think context is usually the best tool anyway. So I think reading and listening with lingQ is adequate for me personally. If you need to remember tones specifically for like test purposes or something like that I would recommend skritter. Not only does is it great for character writing but it also has spaced repetition for tones too.
I used Skritter but being left-handed did not mesh well with its design (I kept accidentally swiping to delete my character haha, but it’s really good in general yes)
Thank you, I feel like this makes more sense with the general philosophy of LingQ and Stephen Krashen anyways. I’m not too interested in speaking Chinese either since we barely have Sinophones in Sweden to communicate with, the few that we have are either well above me in age or my age and have a very basic grasp of Chinese just enough to talk to their family. So I think that this is actually the most helpful advice you could’ve given. I keep finding myself questioning my work since I hear people put heavy pressure on perfect tones immediately. I’ll try to use this mindset from now on!
I’d recommend the expensive but effective Mandarin Blueprint method. It’s a memory technique that I found especially helpful for tones. The method uses thirteen locations that you’re familiar with from your life and a little scene that you imagine for each character. The 1st tone characters are outside the front door, 2nd tone in the kitchen, 3rd in the lounge room/bedroom, 4th in the bathroom/backyard. After becoming familiar with the character, the scene fades away as it’s no longer needed but the place in the location seems to stick, providing certainty that you’re using the correct tone when subvocalising, reading out loud or speaking, apart from those annoying tone changes. Before finding this method, I found remembering characters to be a nightmare and was ready to give up.
The wishful belief that tones can just be “picked up” naturally without deliberate focus is what leads so many learners to reach high levels of comprehension but very limited ability to express themselves and speak comfortably. I should know - I used to believe it.
I honestly don’t see how anyone can defend it in the face of overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work.
Here are some ways LingQ can assist you with tones in Chinese:
Listening practice: LingQ offers a wide range of audio content, including dialogues, stories, and podcasts. Regularly listening to native speakers will expose you to the correct tone patterns and improve your tone recognition over time.
Reading practice: LingQ provides texts with audio, which allows you to read along while listening to the correct pronunciation. Seeing the characters and hearing the tones simultaneously can help reinforce your understanding of tone usage in context.
Vocabulary recognition: LingQ can help you identify words in the target language and save them for later review. When you encounter new words or phrases with specific tones, you can review and practice them separately.
Flashcards and SRS: LingQ offers a spaced repetition system (SRS) for vocabulary review. You can create flashcards for words with their corresponding tones to reinforce your memory and retention.
Hi, I personally take a pretty relaxed approach to language learning and phonetics especially. But there is no doubt that tones are indeed objectively hard. Here is a well known article on the difficulty of Chinese: Why Learning Chinese Is Hard - Sinosplice
A couple of thing I would want to note:
I feel that extensive reading (95-98% comprehension) requires a quite advanced level
I would not recommend reading without audio to begin with, because listening comprehension is another major hurdle and I find it so much more efficient to train both skills at the same time.
At the more intermediate stage, however, reading aloud(!) can be a good practice, it can serve as a reality check of your reading fluency and additionally help to improve focus. When doing this, it is helpful to check the tones or pinyin in case of doubt
As you noted there is indeed a large gap between “teacher” Mandarin and the one found in the real world. While the only way to familiarize yourself with the language of real life is to seek out authentic content produced for natives, it doesn’t mean that didactic material is of no use, I found the material from Chinesepod to be quite helpful to bridge the gap (you can find the CC portion of it in the LingQ library)
I recommend using the Whisper AI to create transcripts from authentic audio content until your listening comprehension is adequate
please keep in mind that LingQ’s Pinyin is auto-generated and not necessarily accurate, so it is a good practice to include the correct Pinyin from a dictionary in your definitions
I’ve been reading more and more in Chinese and have been in this exact same problem. Here is what has helped me:
1. Edge browser TTS/Read-Aloud Feature
I have been using the Text-to-Speech on the Edge browser since it’s already built-in, free, and sounds great! I just make sure to change to a voice that is natural-sounding for the type of Chinese I’m interested in.
Note: I know there is a LingQ feature for this, but I haven’t found it to be quite as natural-sounding. At least not yet! I do however import the text to LingQ to review/keep track of words when I want to read the same text I am listening to through Edge. I try to listen through 1 time at least and then read as many times as I want.
2. Hear Different Perspectives on Tones
Also, reviewing the tones but explained in very different ways has been super helpful, since the textbook/classroom explanations that I have gotten many times has not been very clear.
Here are my favorites:
Rita Mandarin Chinese on YouTube
Stuart Jay Raj on YouTube
Honestly I don’t sweat too much about tones, just try to listen a little every day even when I don’t understand or I’m not paying attention!
From my experience with Spanish, I can tell you that I now sound native (Mexican) in large part due to listening in (Mexican) Spanish every day for a minimum of 10 minutes. Doesn’t have to be for a long time, but it does have to be every day. I have been fluent for a long time, but only now that I listen every day do I sound completely native.