Of course it is the fate of any native speaker of English to struggle with tones. And I suppose I should be happy I have begun with Mandarin, which is far less extravagant in its tone system than are many other languages. But one place I feel hopeless is in distinguishing between 那里 and 哪里. I know that 那 is fourth tone and 哪 is third tone, but that knowledge isn’t helping me hear the difference.
I’ve been using Duolingo (maybe that’s my problem?) but when these words are used in any context (so not in isolation) and spoken at anything above glacial speed, I fail to notice a difference. Luckily, one often knows from context which is meant. But other times not. For instance, I find it nearly impossible to distinguish whether someone is saying “我的手机在那里” or asking “我的手机在哪里?”
Does anyone have any advice on how to sensitize one’s ear? The same question applies for 那儿 and 哪儿, though sometimes I hear (Duolingo producing) 哪儿 as rhyming with English fair, while 那儿 rhymes with far.