Tone Lesson 2 – The First Tone with Tone Pair Drills

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Starting from this lesson, we will be practicing the four Chinese Basic Tones. Today we will focus on the Mandarin Pinyin First Tone. We’ve designed more than enough of Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs for you to practice and master the First Tone. By practicing different Chinese Tones in combination, you can speak in a natural continuous flow and sounds native.

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The Four Chinese Basic Tones

Speaking with the following Tones individually cannot be easier. The difficult part is speaking with different Chinese Tones in combination. That is why we'll be doing Tone Pairs drills and sentence drills in this video.

A video guide of Chinese Basic Tones: Practice Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs and different Chinese Tones in combination to master Mandarin Pinyin First Tone.
The Four Chinese Basic Tones


Mandarin Pinyin First Tone

Mandarin Pinyin First Tone is called 一声 (yī shēng) in Chinese, literally meaning "the first sound". It starts high and maintain the same high pitch the whole process. So it sounds high and flat. That is why it is also known as "The High Level Tone".

A video guide of Chinese Basic Tones: Practice Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs and different Chinese Tones in combination to master Mandarin Pinyin First Tone.
Mandarin Pinyin First Tone


Why Do We Practice With Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs

In Chinese, the vast majority of words are 2-syllable words, which we could also call, 2-character words, 双音节词(shuāng yīn jié cí). Practicing Mandarin Chinese Tone pairs can prepare us well for speaking long sentences and having conversations. In today's lesson, we will be practicing the Mandarin Pinyin First Tone with many Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs and a few sentences with different Chinese Tones in combination.


1-syllable Word I; me
2-syllable Word zhōng guó 中国 China
3-syllable Word qiǎo kè lì 巧克力 chocolate
4-syllable Word luó màn dì kè 罗曼蒂克 romantic


Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs Pronunciation Tips

When we pronounce 2-syllable words, there is no long pause between the two syllables. When you speak with Mandarin Chinese Tone Pairs, speak both syllables in one single breath, using the rest of your breath to say the second syllable.Sometimes in a Chinese word, there can be 3, 4 or even more syllables. No matter how many Chinese tones in combination, we usually try to speak them with one single breath.

Mandarin Pinyin First Tone Pronunciation Drills



zhōng guó 中国 China
zhōng wén 中文 Chinese
bāng máng  帮忙  to help 
kōng tiáo  空调  air conditioner
gōng yuán 公园 park 
zhōng guó rén shuō zhōng wén
Chinese people speak Chinese.


hē shuǐ 喝水 to drink water
yīng yǔ 英语 English language
zhōng wǔ 中午 noon 
duō shǎo 多少 how many; how much
jīng lǐ 经理 manager
jīng lǐ zhōng wǔ hē shuǐ
The manager drinks water at noon.


gōng zuò 工作 to work
tiān qì 天气 weather
zhōu mò 周末 weekend
gāo xìng 高兴 happy
shēng rì 生日 birthday
tā zhōu mò gōng zuò
He works on the weekend.
Collapse Comments
Henry CPremium Student March 4, 2024 at 12:23 pm

One tip I found useful is in addition to following along and repeating the words, humming the sounds is also a great way to get how the pairs sound together. I think practicing pronunciation is great too, but if you’re stuck on getting the sound right, try that!

Arizona CowboyPremium Student June 26, 2023 at 11:37 am

Hi Lili & Dave,
Great course! However, it took me a while to understand how much repetion it would take to master these tones.
Please consider putting a big bold notice at the begining of this course which says something like: “Chinese tone work has a lot in common with the way we learn to play the piano. You just have to play the scales repeatedly until you master them. Plan on lots of repetion!”
Again, great course. Thank you1

MarkusPremium Student July 25, 2021 at 8:48 pm

Hi Lili,
Thanks for your great course. As a newbie I find it difficult to tell the difference between tone 2 and tone 4 – I can pick tone 1 and 3 well. Do you have any suggestions – I keep practicing but just curious if you have and other things I can do?? Thanks 🙂

This is a very helpful one. Thank you so much. I need more practice. I am still confused.

lionstevePremium Student August 29, 2020 at 10:10 am

reference RE in zhōng guó rén shuō zhōng wén sentence.
Which way to say R please? different regions say R as in your way, which is most similar to western way of saying and other regions say as in J ( french pronounciation) or , as in ‘Ju’dge.
many thanks

JarjiPremium Student August 20, 2020 at 3:27 pm

Oh man, this will definitely take some time to get used to. 2nd and 3rd tone are kinda tricky, as they both get higher in the end, should pay attention to tone duration I guess.

ApocalypseGamer1Premium Student August 24, 2019 at 4:24 pm

I have a little bit of trouble quickly pronouncing the longer quotes for combining the tones, such as zhongguo ren shuo zhongwen. I need a little bit of help in regards to that.

xie xie ni nice and clear,3rd tone can be low and flat also

tanghuluganPremium Student February 28, 2018 at 4:41 am

Thank you for such in-depth explanations!

mtrpop3Premium Student December 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

I was disappointed that the 1 1 combo as in 一声 (yī shēng) was left out of the tone pairs, particularly as I find it confusing that some Chinese do the two at the same pitch, others lower and higher, and still others higher and lower. Maybe it does not matter, but I am confused at this point. 🙂

Hi I’m glad you noticed the differences when people speak. We did include repetition of 4th Tone + 4th Tone and 3rd Tone + 3rd Tone, because the Tone changes in these two combinations are commonly shared by the majority of native speakers and they are linguistically recognized. This means that if we don’t speak with the Tone changes for these two combinations, then the pronunciation would be considered not standard or off. But with 1st Tone + 1st Tone and 2nd Tone + 2nd Tone, there is no linguistically recognized Tone change, so if we speak without any Tone change, it is correct and standard. Also tones of characters and words can be affected by the intonation of sentences, whether it is a declarative sentence or question, or an imperative sentence affects the pronunciation of words.

Yeah. Sorry for butting in. I have to agree with your last sentence. I think this is what’s making it baffling to me.

Camille NewmanGuest May 15, 2021 at 7:12 pm

I don’t know er sheng

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