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This question is about the technique to remember tones via spelling in pinyin with the unaccented letter followed by the tone number as opposed to the superscript. For example, remembering nǐ as ni3 or lǎoshī as lao3shi1.

What are the pros and cons of this method? Would you recommend it?

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It is viable, but not necessarily the most intuitive way to learn tones. A diacritical mark (above the vowel) offers a visual cue to the tone - a level mark indicates a level tone, a stroke from upper left to lower right indicates a falling tone, etc. The mark serves an important function, that is to help learners recognize the contour of the tone.

The number system, on the other hand, is quite arbitrary. There is no logical reason why the first tone has to be the level tone, and the second rising ... Because of this, it requires the learner to recite all the tones in a certain arbitrary order, and then pick out the one that matches what he sees. To me, it is less direct, and takes longer and more (unnecessary) effort. Imagine trying to learn a language with six or seven tones. You'll find that it's much more time consuming and tedious.

The only pro I can think of for the number system is that it is a lot easier to type :):) But it's probably not a very good reason to opt for it.

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For natives, I think the learning path would be:

Speaking/talking -> Pinyin -> Characters

For example, when we see a word like 你好,we would think about what it's pronounced like and then figure out what tone should apply to them.

I think this could be a good way for non-natives to remember tones for characters as well.

With the way(lao3shi1) OP suggested, you have to remember tones by rote, and it's very easy to forget, and you might not apply those tones well when you speak, because you have to think about the tones all the time while you are speaking.

Hope this could help.

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Is spelling with numbers a viable option to remember tones?

Yes, if compared to spelling without any tone information (i.e. lao3 shi1 is better than lao shi).

No, if compared to spelling with the superscript (i.e. lǎo shī is better than lao3 shi1).


The tone with superscript should always be more intuitive than the tone with numbers. Why do we have to map the numbers into the tone within our minds?

The only downside of writing in a superscript tone is its relative difficulty to type in. It is not a part of ASCII-128 so you must remember which modifier key to trigger in order to type in these extensive character sets. (In fact I tried more than 6 key combinations to type in ǎ character just now....)

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