I still have difficulty to identify tones when I listen to Chinese. Moreover I have difficulty in saying second tone.

Could you guys advice me some way to improve my tone?

  • 3
    Really, it's all about practise. Having said that, there are inefficient and efficient ways to practise, so I did a quick search and this method of practise: lingomi.com/blog/2011/03/… looks like it could be a helpful way to practise tones.
    – Ming
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 8:18
  • 1
    2nd tone should be the easiest if you are a speaker of any non-tonal language since just about every language that doesn't have tones uses rising intonation at the end of a question, and this is the tone of Mandarin 2nd tone. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:11
  • The easy part is learning the tones in isolation. The hard part is learning how to perceive or produce the tones right for whole phrases and sentences. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:16
  • For listening practice this tool might help
    – user66081
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:45

6 Answers 6


All the 5 tones in Mandarin exist in English already, but not used in the same way.

1st tone: I am a STUUUUU-dent.

When you read this sentence in the normal way, the syllable STUUUUU carries the first tone.

2nd tone: Are you a stu-DENT?

When we ask a yes-no question in English, we need to raise the last syllable of the sentence. The syllable of DENT? carries the 2nd tone.

3rd tone:

Your friend tells you an unusual story, and you are surprised, and you ask in surprise: REA-ly? in the way that the syllable of REA goes down, and the syllable of ly goes up. In this case, the syllable of REA carries the 3rd tone, and ly carries the 2nd tone.

4th tone: pay lay day lie pie tie buy my high (Those words, when read alone, carry the 4th tone.)

Another example: you accidently hit yourself on a corner of a table, it really hurts, right? So what do you say? You say: Ouch!, which carries the 4th tone.

5th tone (the neutral tone): Go A-head.

The schwa A carries the 5th tone.

See this video for the tones: Mandarin Made Easy

From my Mandarin teaching experience, I think mastering the 4 tones individually is easy for English speakers, but consciously applying the tones on each syllable in Mandarin is very challenging for English speakers, because tones are not used in English in this way.

You can practise tones by reading the following sentences aloud. You may have already noticed that all characters in each sentence have the same tone.

1st tone: 今天三家三星分公司开张。

2nd tone: 德国游人年年来长城游玩。

3rd tone: 祖母总给予我理解与鼓舞。

4th tone: 第二次世界大战正在迫近。

If you can read aloud those sentences correctly without any hesitation, then you know you have won the battle with tones.

  • 2
    I'd be surprised if anybody who didn't already know the tones could learn much from the description of 1st tone here. Lots of people find it to be quite like a musical note, I am among them. I don't find the description of 4th tone convincing either. But the others are good. +1 for the sentences at the end though! Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    @hippietrail I agree that it is hard to describe tones in words. After all, tones are something about sound and even you have some clues of how to say those tones, you still need to hear those tones said by real person to have a good sense of what the tones sound like. By the way, I revised my answer by adding more examples for the 4th tones. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 16:51
  • Also note that "student" might not be a good example as people not from North America pronounce it like "styudent". Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 18:32
  • @hippietrail How is your 2nd comment related to tones?
    – NS.X.
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 20:57
  • 1
    @hippietrail Can you suggest a better word for the first tone, if student does not work in all places?
    – Sweeper
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 12:54

John Pasden, a linguist you may be familiar with if you use ChinesePod, has developed a system for learning tones called "Mandarin Chinese tone-pair drills." The program he developed costs money and is probably easier to use than anything else, but there is no reason why you could not simply practice all of the different tone combinations in pairs of two on your own. Here is the link: http://www.sinosplice.com/learn-chinese/tone-pair-drills

Reading aloud or reciting memorized phrases helps quite a bit not only for tones, but all aspects of pronunciation. Record yourself if necessary. Be aware of what kind of language you are using. It is beneficial to recite informal spoken Chinese as well as more formal language.


The method that worked best for me was recording myself reading something and then comparing that with a native speaker.

They actually sell "language learning" CD players/tape recorders that play a recording, and when you hit a button, record a few seconds of your speech, then play you and the last few seconds of the recording back. I used this system and worked through the language tapes that came with my 口语 texts. It's a very slow process at first--it can take half an hour to get a few sentences right--but if you stick with it, your tones and pronunciation will make amazing progress.

Here's a link to the sort of tape recorder I used. They're common in China but I've never seen them in the US. There's probably software that does the same thing out there.


  • You can use Audacity to do this easily. It's free and available for most platforms.
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 21:20

Improve the pronunciation of the second tone and your problem with the identification/perception will automatically disappear. It’s neurolinguistic magic. The pronunciation can be improved with a good voice training, a skilled Mandarin teacher or with a tool which has been made for tone training and voice analysis: Zhoong Tone


Personalized one-on-one lessons and asking your Chinese friends to correct you. Repeat, repeat, repeat, it's the most effective way to speak.

I also use colours to "print" tones in my memory: see http://chinesecoloured.blogspot.sg/enter image description here


I think it is important to realize that identifying two syllable words is very different from monosyllable. Generally teaching material gives the impression it is just (with some tone changes) strung together, but somehow it is a different task for your brain. So I recommend that you practice identifying two syllable tones. For a somewhat ok training site I use this one: http://pinyinpractice.com/tones4.htm

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