In my beginning Chinese class, many students consistently pronounce tones incorrectly when answering questions aloud. I realize this is expected of beginners, but I've noticed that it happens most frequently with the fourth tone, and even when the answer is a single syllable. My teacher has noticed it too, and said this is surprising - he expects us to have more trouble with 2 and 3.
To me (native English speaker), it sounds like my classmates are uptalking: They are not sure of the answer or the pronunciation, so they are answering with "question intonation" to solicit confirmation. It stands to reason that the effect of this would be negligible on the first three tones, where high or rising intonation is actually correct. But on the fourth tone, the error is clear.
For anyone unfamiliar, here is what Wikipedia has to say about "uptalk" or "high rising terminal". A Google search also returns plenty of media coverage and some research references. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_rising_terminal
So my question is, does anyone have experience with this problem? If you agree with my suspicions about the cause, can you suggest some strategies to address it? Better yet, some examples or references that I might share with my teacher to help explain what's going on?
I would really like to help my classmates overcome this, as we've wasted a lot of class time on it already. (Each time it happens, I desperately want to interject, "are you asking me or telling me?", as my elementary school teachers used to do.) My teacher's approach when a student makes this error is to have the class repeat various syllables in the fourth tone after him, over and over. I haven't noticed that having much effect. Uptalk is so pervasive now - my classmates also answer in English like this? - so I'm hoping to hear that this is a common problem with some established solutions.