Learning Chinese Tones is EASY!

Chinese is a tonal language - which means that the pitch or the "tone" of each syllable is vital to the meaning of the spoken words. There are 4 different tones and a "fifth" neutral tone in Mandarin Chinese.

In English, for example, we can say the word "dog" with a flat tone (1st tone), rising tone (2nd tone), a "scooping" tone (3rd tone), or a sharp falling tone (4th tone) and the meaning of "dog" never changes. But in Chinese, each of the tones is a different utterance entirely.

chinese lantern

Let's take a look at the syllable "da" to see how the meaning can change simply by changing its tone:

  • da1 - to hang over something
  • da2 - to answer
  • da3 - to hit
  • da4 - big

The "fifth" or "neutral tone" is never used by itself and so never has a meaning.