Lesson 002. Chinese Tones and Pronunciation.

Chinese musical tones convey differences in meaning. In this lesson I will teach you how to pronounce them correctly. You can practice Chinese pronunciation with me.
Don’t worry, I guarantee, with my lessons you will master your Chinese pronunciation and tones very well.
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  1. Jur says:


    What a great idea! I live in the netherlands and could not get my hands on something like this.
    I ‘ll put a few lessons on a CD and try to learn in the car while commuting.

    Keep up the good work
    Thank you.

  2. Karen Cloud says:

    Hi, Serge! I am enjoying the lessons (especially the one with the song (lesson 26) — I want to memorize it to sing to my daughter.

    Do you have any suggestions for practicing the difference between the second tone and the third? I will keep practicing, but I notice that I do not distinguish well between these two tones.


  3. Dear Karen,

    Just keep your voice low when you pronounce third tone, try not to raise it, it’s basically like a low version of the first tone( you can cut the raising part, which is similar to second tone and is confusing for you). For second tone, rise your voice immediately to the top, don’t pause at the bottom, otherwise it will sound like third tone.


  4. I found the following in a book entitled, “Learning To Write Chinese
    Characters”, by Johan Bjorksten. It is the best description I have come
    across for native English speakers to understand the tone concept. Perhaps
    it will help you to help us. Thanks for everything. Dante

    1st Tone
    The first tone is level, like the tone of the second syllable of tadaa!
    Someone whisking the drape off the new painting or announcing, with a
    flourish, the opening of the school play might say tadaa!

    2nd Tone
    The second tone is rising, like the tone of the surprised question: What?

    3rd Tone
    The third tone goes down and then up, just like the irritated and somewhat
    exaggerated tone used on “So” in the following context: “You
    haven’t given me any reason to do it.” “So? Do it anyway.”

    4th Tone

    The fourth tone is a falling tone that sounds like the tone on hey in
    “Hey! You there!”

  5. Hey Fabio,

    It’s about the tones in which you pronounce the syllable ‘ma’. It can be pronounced in four different tones (musical intonation).
    ma1, ma2, ma3, ma4, all four have completely different meanings.



  6. Fabio says:

    Hi Serge,
    thank you very much for your podcast course, I’ve just began today an it seem very interesting ;)

    Just a curiosity question, after listening to the lesson the very first question in my brain was:
    what the “four ma” stands for? ;)

    Greetings from Italy!

  7. Fabio says:

    Hey Serge,
    thank for replying :)

    Yes I got that these stands for 4 different meanings, my question was about what these meanings are :)

    If I’m not wrong I know that one is horse, but I miss the other three.

    Sorry if my english is not so clear, my mother language is italian ;)

    Best2u ^_^

  8. Good point and sorry, I don’t read Italian:-)

    So, first ma1 is “mama”, second ma2 means “hemp”, third ma3=”horse” and the last ma4 stands for “to scold”



  9. Fabio says:

    Ok, thanks, now I got it! let’s go on with lesson 3 ;)


  10. Caitlín says:

    ‘These lessons are really fantastic, I love them. I was trying to pick up some mandarin from a cd but they only repeated words twice each time and didn\’t explain any of the individual meanings of words, or pronounciations, so these lessons are really great, feels like having my teacher in the room! Xie xie! ^^

  11. Ricardo Lambo says:

    Hi Serge,
    I’m really enjoying your lessons and find them very useful. However, I wonder if you will mention the topic of tone sandhi soon, since it is a subtlety that well help the beginner get his tones right.

  12. Nihao Ricardo,
    The changes in tones in Mandarin Chinese were discussed in lessons 4 and 11. Please read the phonetic notes in the PDF transcripts of these lessons.

  13. David says:

    Hi Serge,
    I think it isn’t very difficult for beginners to correctly utter the tones individually. The problems arise with multi-syllable words, and especially words that feature the 2nd and 3rd tone. If possible, could you please devise a lesson that focuses on this issue. Think about words like Mei3guo2, for example. Those are a nightmare for beginners. Please help us!

  14. Serge Melnyk says:

    Hi David,
    When you pronounce words that feature the 2nd and 3rd tones together, e.g.mei3guo2(美国)-America, please try to keep the 3rd tone of mei3(美) as low as possible. Do not raise your voice! Just like you pronounce the 1st tone, but very very low at the very bottom.
    If you see 2 3rd tones together, e.g. ni3hao3(你好), then first 3rd tone will automatically change into 2nd tone, so you will say ni2hao3. It’s a rule and it’s always like this.
    The topic of the tone sandhi was also discussed in lessons 4 and 11.


  15. A J says:

    Just wanted to say thank you very much for providing these lessons. I just returned to the US after spending two years working in China and was worried that I would not be able to keep up my Chinese language studies.

    I have been able to, and one of my most important tools is listening to one of your podcasts each day, once on my ride to work and once on my ride back home.

    I am still on the earlier lessons (36) so a lot of it is review for me at this point, but they are still wonderful.

    Just wanted to let you know that they are great as a supplement to what I already know and to say thank you for providing them and continuing the lessons.


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