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Lesson 2

Q 2.About Mandarin Tones

Many foreigners feel headache as far as they hear about the "Mandarin Tones" when they learn Chinese in China. Some of them tried again and again but failed all the time even they have studied Chinese for many years. Then they give up. Later on, the more they can say, the more they feel that it is not that necessary to say all the words with correct tones (furthermore, it is almost impossible for many people)

Somehow, it is kind of true. Because based on the context, people still can understand what you mean, however they might make fun of you. Of course, it is still very important to learn Chinese in China --- this real world.

Let's see some examples.


When you learn Chinese in Beijing, "Bus" is pronounced with "gōnggòng qìchē". "Gōnggòng" means "public", "qìchē" means "vehicle". But if you pronounced "public" careless by saying "gōnggong" instead of "gōnggòng", people can still understand you, but they might laugh a lot, since "gōnggong" in modern Chinese means "father in law", so it would be "a bus for father-in-law". And if we connect your wrong tone "gōnggong" with the old meaning in the old days, it would be worse, which means "a bus for eunuch."


When you learn Chinese in China, this is a real story. The above word's tones are "dábiàn", which means "reply", "answer". There was a foreign student who had studied Chinese in China for four years. Before he got his degree, he had to answer the professors' questions. After around half an hour, he came out. Some of his Chinese friend asked him "did you finish your replying?" by saying "nǐ dábiàn wán le ma?" He anwsered "yes" by saying "wǒ dàbiàn wán le". He only changed "dá" to "dà", but all his friends were breaking into laughters. Because "dábiàn" surely means "reply", but "dàbiàn" means "defecate", "stool". So what he said is like to say "I finished defecating".

So do not feel you are tied up by the tones when you learn Mandarin in China, because people do understand you if you can make the context clear enough, but meanwhile, don't ignore the tones completely. If you can remember the tones, always say them correctly. Better be safe than sorry.

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