Tone Introduction – Guide of Chinese Tones

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Thanks for joining ChineseFor.Us’s Video guide of Chinese Tone System. Chinese is a tonal language, and tones can affect the meaning of a character. That’s why to speak Chinese with tones correctly is important. This video lesson is a general guide of Chinese Tone system and the 4 Tones in Mandarin and also the special Neutral Tone. You will learn how to pronounce the 4 Tones in Mandarin and start to be able to speak Chinese with Tones.

How to Get the Best Results of this Course

1. Practice along with the video, do all the Tone Drills
2. Take notes
3. Record yourself, listen to it and make adjustments
4. Finish all the listening quizzes
5. Re-watch and redo all the practice

Guide of Chinese Tone System

Tones in Mandarin are called 声调(shēngdiào). Tones are a relatively fixed range of pitch change. Chinese is a tonal language, different tones of a syllable have different meanings. The chart below shows you the difference that Tones function in a tonal-language and non-tonal language.

(a range of pitch change)
 Affect meanings  Affect emotions and attitudes

How to Master the Four Tones in Mandarin


Speaking requires muscle memory

Speaking is not understanding. Pronunciation requires muscle involvement. We need to able to put the understanding into practice. Being able to understand the Four Tones in Mandarin is like being able to read music sheets. But being able to speak Chinese with Tones correctly is like being able to play the instrument.

Speak with the correct Tones at the very beginning

One thing extremely important is that whenever you learn a new word, make sure you can pronounce the Tones correctly. Don't wait until you've already learned so many words and then go back and correct the Tones one by one. It will take so much more effort that way.


Tones Themselves Are Not Difficult

Tones in Mandarin are not difficult to pronounce. It is surprisingly easy to pronounce the Tones individually. You can master the Four Tones in less than a minute. Then why are Tones in Mandarin so difficult? Here are the reasons:

1. how to remember the tone for each Chinese character
2. how to pronounce the Tones in different combinations
3. switching among the Tones quickly during conversations


How to Pronounce the Four Tones in Mandarin

There are four Tones in Mandarin Chinese Tone system, along with a special Neutral Tone. Sometimes when speaking, Tones get modified or changed. We will discuss Tone changes later in this course. Please practice the Four Tones along with the video.

The First Tone: It starts high and maintains high the whole process.
The Second Tone: It starts medium high and goes up.
The Third Tone: It starts medium high, dips down and then up again.
The Fourth Tone: It starts high and then immediately goes down.
The Neutral Tone: It is not a real tone, it is a way of pronunciation that is light, vague and short.

The Four Tones in Mandarin: A Video Guide of Chinese Tone System - starting from here, you will start to speak Chinese with Tones correctly and comfortably!
The Four Tones in Mandarin


Why Is It Important to Speak Chinese with Tones Correctly

Tones in Chinese can affect the meaning of a character or a word, this means that with different Tones, the same exact syllable can mean two different things. That's why getting the Tones correctly is important to communicate with people.

一直 yì zhí  always 
已知 yǐ zhī  already known 
上海 shàng hǎi  the city of Shanghai 
伤害 shāng hài to hurt; to damage 
Collapse Comments
AndytimboPremium Student August 20, 2023 at 2:40 pm

I have heard from other courses that the third tone is often a sustained low tone, especially when paired with other words. What are your thoughts on that?

ChineseFor.UsAcademic Team August 29, 2023 at 9:25 am

Please kindly refer to Lesson 5 through Lesson 9 in this course for Chinese Third Tone.

alessiaPremium Student July 4, 2022 at 12:59 pm

I have started the course a few days ago, and everything that I have learned so far is impressive. I can understand each lesson pretty fast and the information is very well explained to me! thank you for making these videos

Renner St. JohnPremium Student November 10, 2020 at 4:30 pm

How do the tones affect singing songs where a particular word’s tone might not match the musical note being sung? Do tones affect singing? Do Chinese song lyrics still have tones?

kat-rPremium Student March 7, 2021 at 4:21 pm

I was intrigued by this question, so did a bit of googling and found the following at

I’ve been asked a number of times: if Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, what happens when you sing in Mandarin? Well, the answer is the melody takes over and the tones are ignored. Pretty simple.

A graphic representation of tones spoken vs. sung in Mandarin [also from Sinosplice]:

Sometimes, though I think, if you listen closely a lot of people are included to sing the tone even though they don’t need to.

Amended rather hilariously by:

@user5949 actually as a Chinese some time I can not understand some song. I need to find its written lyric to understand. So tone is really important when you speak Chinese. For example: 《爱的主打歌》 has one lyric “你是我的主打歌。” This “主打歌(Title song)” sounds really like “猪大哥(Mr. Pig)”. So the “you’re my title song(works as Mr. right here)” turns into “you’re my Mr. Pig”

I have noticed that the theme songs of some Chinese TV series are actually subtitled in Chinese characters, presumably to prevent the above type misunderstanding, lol.

There are a bunch more fascinating comments on this topic at that site, e.g. about Western hymns translated into Cantonese, which apparently only make any sense at all because the content is so predictable 🙂

DuVante GuerraPremium Student October 27, 2020 at 8:04 pm

the 2nd tone is really tough to distinguish from the other tones sometimes.

ShambelzPremium Student September 17, 2020 at 9:01 pm

How do you record yourself?

if you have a microphone you can use

MMCFiremanPremium Student June 19, 2020 at 2:46 pm

Hello Lili, Just started the course work a few days ago and am enjoying it very much. Tones are a problem for me, I don’t really have the ear for them nor the enunciation/inflection for them. I am fortunate that I have someone to practice with (my wife, and ironically also Chinese and named Lili). So with some perseverance I will master this since I have been procrastinating (for most of my marriage) about doing this.

Matthew WirthPremium Student February 14, 2020 at 4:55 am

You use “yì zhí” for “always”, but when I went to put it in my flashcards it shows up under “yī zhí”, and so do all the web results. Is this a variant pronunciation for 一?

devi gillilandPremium Student October 7, 2018 at 12:56 pm

why so hard for me to master those are tone ? I learning everyday still make a lot mistakes

Raneem AlzannanPremium Student July 2, 2018 at 12:11 am

Hello Teacher, I miss you, miss learning Chinese and everything here 🙁
but I AM BACK!
I am so excited to start this course , Thanks .

Hi RANEEM! I’m so happy to see you back. You are one of our very first members! I really hope you will enjoy our newer Chinese lessons! 谢谢你!

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