Is it possible to be tone deaf?

August 04, 2011, 10:03 PM posted in General Discussion

My first language is English and I'm having problems figuring out tones when listening. Does that just come with time? Are there any tips or suggestions to help one better identify tones when listening? Thanks in advance.

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August 05, 2011, 03:45 AM


Since English isn't a tonal language, it's completely natural to be "tone deaf" in Chinese in the beginning. The key to overcome it is cliche, listen and practice. Many of our users struggle with the same problem, that's why we made a number of recourses on tones to help out:

Also, download the Pinyin Chart which allows you to play each Pinyin syllable in different tones.
Listen, practie and a little bit of patience and persistence.  

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August 05, 2011, 10:14 PM

Great. I'll go through those lessons. Thanks.

It's easier to distinguish in the lessons, but when the speaker's pace is faster, that's when it gets fuzzy for me.

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August 05, 2011, 10:28 PM

Well, don't feel bad. You're not alone. :) I'll say what Jenny said, just stick with it. I still can't figure out tones but I'm confident that with time I'll figure it out!


Besides, it's kind of funny when I use the wrong tone and accidentally say something rude about someone's mom. ;) Funny with my language practice partners, not in real conversation I'm sure!

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August 06, 2011, 03:35 AM

Not to put pressure on you, but tones are important.  You can often be understood if your tones are correct, but your pronunciation is wrong.  The other way around is not the case.  

but trust this foreigner when I tell you that you do get used to them eventually!

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August 08, 2011, 02:54 AM

I've found that Chinese movies with really good sound recording to be really helpful, especially when listining to long conversation. The actors aren't trying to teach, if that makes any sense.


Crouching Tiger and a movie called 2046 are good for listing. There are others as well.


Just my $0.02.

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August 09, 2011, 04:53 PM

Thanks again to Jenny for the lesson links. They were very good and funny as well. A little Jon Stewart - ish. Makes it easy to remember.

And thanks to all for the advice. I will keep plugging on.

I have a subscription to Netflix Instant and I usually watch in spurts movies that feature Mandarin. Very useful.

My mom and relatives said Chow Yun Fat's Chinese wasn't too good in CTHD though. Is that the case?