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Problems and Skills of the Mandarin Pronunciation of the Four Tones

For students who learn Chinese in China, the teachers often find that they have great problems on the pronunciation of pinyin tones. And it is true that this is the most difficult part when they learn Chinese. Today will talk about the problems of the four tones and the teaching skills.

Firstly, we will start with the fourth tone. Teachers who have been teaching in one-on-one Chinese learning programs for a long time will know clearly that it is difficult for students to lower this tone. Most of them will pronounce this tone like the first tone and someone will pronounce it too short. When teaching this tone, we have a tip for you. You can demonstrate the pronunciation of the word 逼迫(bī pò)for students who learn Mandarin Chinese pinyin and ask students to pronounce the sound “bī” much longer and relax their vocal cords, then the pronunciation will be done. Or you can also tell them that the fourth tone sounds a little bit like mad tone.

Secondly, the problem of students who study Mandarin Chinese is the second tone, for the starting position of this tone is too high to reach. Most of the students reflect that there is no the process that from low position to high position. Here the tip given by the teachers of the Chinese teaching volunteer programs in China is to demonstrate the pronunciation of the word 暴徒(bào tú) for students. As for the fourth tone in this word, teacher can ask students to lower their tone to the lowest position, and then tighten their vocal cords. Remember to let students pronounce the second tone a little longer and feels that their vocal cords are tightened suddenly.

Thirdly, students who study in China feel that the third tone has high starting point so that it is a little bit hard to be lowered down. It sounds that there is no turns from the high position to the low position. Some students have the turns, but the forepart which needs to be lowered down is pronounced too short and the back-part which needs to be risen up is pronounced too long.

The teacher of the Chinese summer program in China once demonstrated the pronunciation of the word 配偶 (pèi ǒu) for the students and made the forepart of the sound 偶much longer. We suggest you that you can also let students to pronounce the English word “pardon” and make the sound par- much longer and the sound –don much shorter.

In addition to this, the third tone has the phenomenon of tone sandhi usually. The complete third tone is seldom used, so we need not to emphasize too much the back-part of third tone. You can only ask students who study Chinese in China to pronounce the low tone of the forepart well.

Talking about the tone sandhi, we will also talk about this phenomenon here. If students ask you, “there are two third tones in the word 你好(nǐ hǎo); why we can’t pronounce it as nǐ + hǎo, but pronounce as ní + hǎo?”, how will you answer them? The right answer should be as the following: this is a phenomenon of tone sandhi which occurs in flow of speech. It will happen not only in Chinese language, but also in every language in the world. In coherent flow of speech, the phenomenon that tone changes will occur when syllable is linked with syllable.

In Chinese Putonghua, tone sandhi has mainly four types: one is the tone sandhi of the third tone; two is the tone sandhi of the pronunciation of “一”; three is the tone sandhi of the pronunciation of “不”; four is the light sound. Here we will give you the example of the tone sandhi of the third tone both for teachers and students who learn Mandarin.

Rule-1: if two third tones are linked together, the former will be pronounced as the second tone. For example, 语法yǔfǎ should be pronounced as yú fǎ and 好马hǎo mǎ should be pronounced as háo mǎ.

Rule-2: the third tone + the first/second/fourth tone, in this situation the third tone should be pronounced as half-third tone, which means to only pronounce the forepart of the third tone.

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