Date: 01-24-11 08:21
Learning tones well is the key to speaking any dialect of Chinese, and Mandarin is no exception.
There are four tones. One type of tone is usually over each Chinese word. Each tone type is drawn over the word 'ma' to show the different ways of pronouncing it.
The first tone is a high, flat tone. Your voice stays flat, with no rise or dip in the way it sounds.
The second tone is a rising tone. Your voice rises when you say this, sort of as if you were asking someone to repeat something by saying "huh?" or "what?"
The third tone is a dipping tone. The way you say the word goes down then up, such as when you say the letter "B". When two third tone syllables are near each other, the first one retains its third tone sound while the next takes the sound of the fourth tone. Also, unless at the end of a sentence or in the case aforementioned, the third tone just sounds like a second tone starting slightly lower.
The fourth tone is a lowering tone. Just say the whole word as if your voice is becoming more manly, or as if you're reading a book and have come across something new and interesting and are saying "huh". Is it easy enough? If not, don't fret. It's definitely recommended to hear the tones demonstrated from a native speaker, since it's hard to get an idea of what they sound like purely through text.
Drill them into your head. When you are unsure or have temporarily forgotten of how to produce certain tones, practice until you have gotten them right again. Whenever you learn a new word or character, make sure you know the tones that go with it. Relentlessly learn the tones for all new Chinese words and all the tones for old words that you have forgotten.
If you go on chineseTones, you will find this on-line Chinese learning website can offers you an efficient way to master tones. You can listen the recording, and see the subtitles both in Chinese and English, what’s more, each Chinese character has Pinyin attached. And the tones can be clearly seen.