Although some languages such as Swedish and Serbian have pitch accents, it is fundamentally different from the function of Chinese to distinguish the meaning of words by their tones. 

In the course of millennia, the Chinese have also changed a lot in terms of tone. In some dialects of Chinese, such as Cantonese, there are as many as nine tones. In Mandarin, there are four basic tones distinguished by the tone symbol: “—”、“/”、“∨”、“\”. Sometimes the tones are softened and can be regarded as the fifth tone, we call it a “neutral tone”.

However, in the actual speech stream, the tones change. It sounds like an impossible task to fully master the tones of Chinese. In reality, it is easier than you thought. With intensive training at the beginning of language learning, it is possible to master tones. Today I will briefly introduce the rules of tone modulation, and further, give you some tips to help you feel the tones. 

Some basic rules of modulation

1. Modulation of the “third tone”

  • When two consecutive third tones are joined together, the first one actually sounds like the second tone.   

你好 nǐhǎo is actually pronounced "níhǎo".

  • Three consecutive triple tones together, the first two “third tones” become two “second tones”.

Chinese cold medicine 999 jiǔjiǔjiǔ is actually pronounced as "jiújiújiǔ". 

2. Modulation of "不" 

  • 不 bù in front of the fourth tone needs to become the second tone.

不对 bùduì is actually pronounced as búduì

不是 bùshì is actually pronounced as búshì

3. Modulation of "一"

  • 一 yī in front of the fourth tone should become the second tone.

一对 yīduì is actually pronounced as yíduì

一万 yīwàn is actually pronounced as yíwàn

  • 一 yī in front of the other three tones should become the fourth tone.

一千 yīqiān is actually pronounced as yìqiān

一碗 yīwǎn is actually pronounced as yìwǎn

  • But the tone of 一 remains the same if it is in the numbers

2001年 èr líng líng yī nián

Emotion of Tones 

These tips are designed for children to learn tones, but adults can also learn from them. Imagine four tones that correspond to different emotions. 

  • “—” First tone, a baby grinning with teeth. Try it, open your mouth, show your teeth, and make a cheeky sound “hee hee hee.” Be careful to keep your voice upbeat and calm.
  • “/” Second tone, a curious baby. Try making the "eek" sound in a questioning tone, and feel the rise in the second voice. 
  • “∨” Third tone, the baby is unhappy. Try to make the hmm sound and feel the pouting emotion in the tone.
  • “ \” Fourth tone, the baby is angry, and can not coax the kind. Stomp your feet with me and say "hmm"!
  • “ ”Neutral tone, a gentle and obedient baby. Remember, the secret to making a perfect neutral tone is to put stress on the previous syllable.

The above is just a brief introduction to the rules and training techniques of tones. Language, like any other skill, requires repetition and practice to acquire. If you want to learn to pronounce Chinese with professional training, you are welcome to join my Pinyin class!