Thursday, March 24, 2011

The four tones of Chinese

Many of you have wanted to know more about the tones, and seems like some of you have a wrong understanding of what the tones are. A friend of mine asked me if tones in Chinese were like English words with multiple pronunciations and meanings. He used the word polish as his example.

pol·ish [pol-ish]: to make smooth and glossy, especially by rubbing or friction

Po·lish [poh-lish]: of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Poland, its inhabitants, or their language

When said differently the word polish can mean two completely different things. While I like his analogy, the Chinese tones are not exactly the same. So I thought it will be a good idea to write one more post on the tones. Let’s look at a different example this time.

1st tone (flat): (dī): low

2nd tone (rising): (dí): flute

3rd tone (falling & rising): (dǐ): bottom

4th tone (falling): (dì): land

Maybe this video will help


  1. Nice! The video was good, but the graph was useful enough on it's own. I didn't think it could be explained without audio, but I was proven wrong!

  2. This is such a nice idea! And this post is particularly useful....I have been studying Chinese for years now, and tones still make me struggle! I wonder if I will ever get them right...
    Anyhow,congrats for your blog, nice job! And since I perfectly understand you when you say that it is difficult to keep up with Chinese after graduation, as it is the same for me, I promise I will follow your blog regularly to keep my self on track as well!

  3. Nice! It can be hard to hear the difference between tone 2 and tone 4 for me, but hearing various examples does help.