I find it a great struggle to try and remember tones for all the new vocab I learn, and aside from gradually picking up tones by listening and talking with native speakers, I can't really remember tones. Does anyone have a suggestion for a good technique for this?
There is a technique I started to use and actually, I've seen it also in other dictionaries, so maybe I wasn't that original...
But anyway, the answer is colors! When you're studying new Hanzi or vocabulary, just color each character according to the tone... It's very helpful to remember the tones, because after a while, you visualize the tones in your head through the colors. For example:
The tones obviously indicate the tones of the single characters, it doesn't take into account the tone changes in spoken Mandarin.
Obviously these tones are just mine, which means you can change the colors according to your taste. This technique is very useful for the computers, since you can use the colors. Concerning something handwritten, I can suggest using colored flashcards for each tone, for example, or using different pen colors.
For color blind people an alternative solution is needed. For single Hanzi on actual flashcards (not digital ones), a good idea would be the shape of the paper. Or the border style. For example an undulated border for the first tone and so on.
For expressions instead you could add a symbol below each Hanzi. I know that it sounds too complicated, but right now I don't have a better idea.
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I've been developing and using the TOP (Tonally Orthographic Pinyin) system since 1995. There's a free online converter available at http://www.chinesepronto.com/triple/flashfix.php.
The TOP system is redundantly marked for tones: with colors, with capital and small letters, and with the standard Hanyu Pinyin tone marks.
The color system is simple and consistent: BLUE for first tone (high like the sky) Green for second tone (grows UP like a plant) black for third tone (low like dirt on the ground) Red for fourth tone (an angry sound in English, which is often associated with red) Neutral tone is gray and adds an asterisk (*) to the third tone form.
The scheme of capitalization and small letters is also simple: FIRST TONE -- all capitals (voice is high) seconD tonE -- lasT letteR capitalizeD (voice rises) third tone -- all lower case (voice is low -- 3rd tone does not really dip) Fourth Tone -- First Letter Capitalized (voice falls)
So a sample sentence would look like this:
xia1ren2 chao3fan4 hao3chi1 ji2le5! XIĀréN chǎoFàn hǎoCHĪ jÍle*! (I can't figure out how this system would allow me to post colors, but the converter gives both colored text for use in word processors and in HTML pages. It works on my sites.)
The other useful thing to do with tones is to assign a directional gesture (another Mandarin-teaching extension I've been working on for some years now) to each new word. Yes, this is pain. But it really works. The gesture you choose (which can be arbitrary) must have both a meaning element and a tone element. As in ASL, which uses different areas of space to express past or future tense, with directional gestures we use areas of the body to indicate the tone of the syllable.
All first-tone syllables are gestured at the chin level or above; all third-tone syllables at the waist level or below. All second tone syllables must have a gesture that rises, and all fourth tone syllables must have a gesture that falls. Combining two syllables with two separate tones and getting a "meaningful" gesture in there can be challenging but it's worth it. I've had students actually forget the word and remember the tones -- which had never happened before we started experimenting with this method.
The combination of color-coding (we also color-code characters in our reading materials for students using the same color scheme, to reinforce when they are reading characters as well), tonal spelling and directional gestures works wonders with students' tones, both in knowledge of what is the correct tone and in their performance. Students are far more aware of tones when they are part of the syllable (you have to start writing a TOP syllable all over again if you get the wrong tone -- you can't just scratch in another tone mark as you can in Pinyin, and you know we are all guilty of that, at least I certainly was for many years!) and when the class cries out when you accidentally write a syllable using the wrong marker on the whiteboard, you know things are going in the right direction.
For people who tell me they "don't get" the tones, or who can say them but quickly forget them, I usually explain them as listed below. I imagine you're well past this point, but the visuals might help remembering them:
So, for instance, you might have:
If this is useful at all, great. If you think it's crazy nonsense, just ignore it. Different strokes for different folks.
If none of these work for you, there's a Romanization system that takes tone into account. It's called 国语罗马字. I know ditching Pinyin can be tough, but some people find this very useful to learn the tones.
I don't speak Mandarin and never will, but I was faced with the same problem as you in Cantonese -- and we have a couple tones more, and no real rules for tone sandhi.
So my first step was to stick to jyutping and learn the reading(s) of sinograms as a "full set": sound+tone number. So I wouldn't just learn "gwok" for 國 but "gwok3" (
The second step was "musical" -- in the sense that I was memorizing the tone contours of a word, an aural memory of my voice going up/down while pronouncing (hopefully correctly) the word. I am gifted with a very acute sense of hearing and musical memory, so this may or may not work for you.