Saturday, July 29, 2006

Remembering tones from Pinyin

Six months - yes I have been tying to learn Chinese for six months, which means that I ought to write a progress report soon. That has provoked me into thinking more about my learning process.

Thinking about how some things are easier to remember than others I had a sudden realisation about tones and writing pinyin.

Thinking about [měitiān wǒ hěn lèi ] written with the tone marks it looks more professional. Written as [mei3tian1 wo3 hen3 lei4 ] it is easier to remember the tones (for me, maybe not for you).

After some thought about it I have realised that if I don't know the tones for something I am saying and I try to remember them from a memory of what I read then I have much much more chance of remembering if the pinyin was written with tone numbers. The number almost becomes a another letter.

Maybe it works this way for me because my first language doesn't have accented letters? The difference in the ability to recall the tones by 'remembering' the writing is significant.


书伟 sylvio said...

I guess I prefer numbers too. Especially in the computer enviroment (i think bad resolution makes the tone marks harder to see). But when handwriting I usually prefer the tone marks.
Another point is most of the time we have to use numbers when inputting chinese. Anyway - marks or numbers - pinyin helps a lot the memorization of tones .

D.A. said...

Chris, I have been trying to learn Chinese for a while now too. Tones are always the hardest to remember. You will find that although the dictionary gives you a specific tone, different parts of China say the exact same character with 3-4 different tones!! Crazy Huh! Anyway, I have just started my blog about China and Chinese-- you are welcome to come check it out (

Let me know if I can be of any help in your quest to learn Chinese.

Matt Whyndham said...

For me it looks a whole lot more natural if the tone marks are used, and directly above the vowel. But then I've been used to accented latin before, in Welsh, French, etc. The tone numbers get in the way for me.

Also I have artistic tendencies, so the visual representation helps.

Best thing, if the tone marks disturb you, is to try and remember the tones with vocal/aural memory as well (in lexical chunks as Ken suggests), rather than by reading.

Bryan said...

Hi Chris, it's Bryan, whose question you just answered over at the Newbie forum on CPod regarding yi dian/yi dianr,etc. Interesting idea here with the numbers. Initially I had figured the numbers would just make it seem more like gibberish than the tone markings, but I may have to give it a try. I've gotta admit we're a lot more accustomed to using numbers than accents as English speakers. I just got on your blog here for the first time and am looking forward to checking out the rest of it. What a cool idea. I have literally just started learning Mandarin this past week and I'm guessing that I will save myself a lot of time and headaches by reading your blog. Thanks. zai4 jian4