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Crucial Reasons of “Going Out of Tune” for Chinese Learners

During the three-year’s experience of Chinese teaching to foreigners who learn Mandarin in China, the author had comparative analysis and error analysis on the phenomenon of “going out of tune” for Chinese learners whose mother tongue is Spanish and would like to share some research results with everyone.

The phenomenon of “going out of tune” largely happens in flow of speech, less in single syllables.

Although there is no tone in Spanish, the Chinese learners who speak Spanish and learn Mandarin in China as their mother tongue won’t feel the Chinese tone is difficult than they imagined. The author used to have a three-semester’s (9 months) experiment that combines “b p m f” and three single finals “a i u” into the fourth tone and adds into some meaningful words (爸爸,妈妈,爸妈,父母,皮肤) to spell. The students can pronounce the fourth tone exactly and remember the meanings of the five words. It is because of this found that made the author bring forward the meaningful spells of phonetics, rhyme and tonetics in the arrangement of specific teaching content.

Since the pinyin teaching part starts, the teaching modules of phonetics, rhyme, tonetics and two communication sentences will be completed by combining pronunciation, meaning of words with communication practice. Making tone teaching as one of the important content also lays the foundation for the text teaching in late-stage.

This reality fully shows that the phenomenon of “going out of tune” of foreign students who learn Mandarin in China is not inevitable in the beginning of learning. When will it happen? From the moment when the students who learn Mandarin in China start to say sentences that made up of three or more words, say the moment of the words start to be used in the flow of speech. For example, 你-叫-什么-名字?When the students are learning vocabulary, there is no problem with their tones. But the tone problems will appear when the words are connected.

What is the cause behind this phenomenon? As learning technical skills for the students who learn Mandarin in China through trial and error in my teaching experience, I found that the crucial reason is the negative transfer of foreign students’ talking speed of their mother tongues. That is to say, the students’ mother tongue——Spanish words have longer syllables and very fast talking speed. According to the author’s rough statistic, 32 syllables can be said in one minute averagely! Therefore, when they realize that Chinese is to “say sentences”, they can’t help to speed up their pronunciation habitually, which leads the problem of not only pronouncing the Chinese tones exactly, but also ignoring the “tunes”. In other words, we can say that the Chinese tones are “drowned” or “swallowed” by their fast talking speed. When students realizes the “tune”, they may pronounce according to their own feeling or even use the same tone from the beginning to the end or pronounce arbitrarily, which makes the phenomenon very common.

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