I'm not sure why this question has not been posted yet (I might have overlooked), but is it possible to communicate with native Chinese people even if you don't change its tones?

For example, I only memorize Chinese words by pinyin just to be able to type in the keyboard, like wo, not . And thus I want to speak all the sentence as if all the words consist of the same tone.

But I just wonder if it is possible to make myself understood in oral communication even if I only use the same tone (or first tone). Does Chinese people understand it, or are they not able to understand it if it is not pronounced properly? Or more concretely, how much can I make a communication (e.g. 70%, 30%, etc...)?

  • 4
    I would say 90% for simple daily sentences, 50% for complex ones but if you repeat it in different ways eventually people will get it, but that's no easier than learning the tones.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 20:20
  • The reason for the downvote?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 7:58
  • I also don't understand the reason why a downvote. Since no notes about I'll put an upvote to balance. I always found the question interesting. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 1:52
  • I'd like to point out that context is king in many communicative settings. Yes, people might understand what you say even without tones. Yes, they might understand what you say with the wrong initials or finals. Yes, it's even possible they understand what you say even if you speak Swedish or Swahili if the context is clear enough. The less predictable your language becomes, the more important the tones become too. Every error makes it harder to understand.
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


I've been also curious about this and I think this could easily be a research topic. Chinese people often happen to understand me even when my tones are flat, and I highlight that they understand me a lot less when my tones are wrong. Of course this depends a lot on the context, and on the sentence. In a known context and with basic (high frequency) words tones are not that important (I would agree with @NS.X, 80/90%). The speech could sound weird to Chinese people but they can understand. Take also into account that they are used to a wide variety of accents from all China. But, the grammar and the set phrase is better to be perfect.

If conditions are not so particular, tones are important as grammar and words, so recognition percentage could easily fall below 50% of the sentences.

I want to add that:

  • Sometimes I noticed for some words Chinese people have difficulty to remember which tone it is. For them is natural to put that tone on that sentence.
  • When they wisper, or better, when they speak crying (you can see sometimes in the movies) tones almost disappear.

About your study I can say tones are really important, you have to study them and try to learn, but I also say you that I memorized most of them just hearing and using them. You will end up repeating a sentence in your head and saying "Ok, wo is third tone".

  • 1
    Thanks. The reason I have not learned it is because I have zero opportunity to talk with Chinese people, who are very rare in my country, and my goal is only to communicate on the Web, so it is unnecessary, at least right now, to memorize the tones for me.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 7:58
  • Listening and speaking are two fundamental rings on the chain of learning. Unfortunately, as you say, not living in the country means a lack of opportunity to practice. I suggest you to watch Chinese movies with subtitles. Even if you can't understand everything your 听力 will improve getting used to the sound. IMHO later you start practicing with tones the most difficult will be to absorb them. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 1:51
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    @Blaszard if your goal one day is to be able to speak in Chinese this is not something you want to gloss over, even from the beginning. Coming back and learning it later will really be much more difficult than picking it up now. You could try working with colored characters by tone methods for intuitive learning.
    – Mou某
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 4:24
  • @user3306356 Agree. In fact it is exactly what is happening in my English, which I learned almost all from reading/writing and have rarely spent in oral communication. And now I cannot watch English videos unless it has a subtitle... I don't believe the colored characters method is the best approach, though, since it requires me to spend so much time on just building up the notebook.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 22:33
  • @donnadulcinea The idea of watching movies seems a good idea, though I don't think there are any movies that attract me so much. I rarely watch movies in general. Anyway I will try it out, thanks.
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 22:36

I don't think so. Try this:

石室诗士施氏,嗜狮,誓食十狮。施氏时时适市视狮。 十时,适十狮市。是时,适施氏适是市。施氏视十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。 石室湿,施氏使侍拭石室。石室拭,施氏始试食十狮尸。食时,始识十狮实十石狮尸。试释是事。

  • 1
    Please provide a context for which a person would say this. :) There are many reasons why tones are important, but this is not one of them.
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 16:09

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