Your Mandarin is goals:O Any tips on learning tones/speaking better? (Especially if I don't have people to practice with/am shy?) I learned Mandarin for a couple years before, but our teacher kind of gave up on tones and we thought that it will somehow magically get better, so now I don't know/can't pronounce tones and don't have anyone to help me..:( Also, people like you give me hope, because I keep hearing so much of "if you're not native, your tones will always suck" that I believe it.
omg thank you! You’re so sweet :D <3
I definitely understand your position - I’m really shy, and my first Chinese teacher didn’t emphasize tones at all. It’s a rough place to be, and I’m sorry it’s happening to you… But there are definitely ways you can work through it!
First, if you feel like you’re not familiar with tones at all, or you’re a little shaky on what each one should sound like, find a Youtube video that explains and demonstrates the tones (like this one, for example - there are so many you can choose from!). Work on pronouncing the tones along with the video until you’re comfortable with both listening to and producing them.
Once you’ve got that down, you can start small by practicing tone pairs. This means working through a chart or list of two-syllable words to practice pronouncing one tone in combination with another. You can find tone pair drills (like the one in this blog post) by Googling for them. This will help you actually apply the tones to real words rather than practicing them in isolation. It can also help you get familiar with Mandarin’s tone sandhi, or tone change rules, which you can find an explanation of here. If you come across a syllable you’re not sure how to pronounce, you can use a pinyin chart with audio like this one to hear what it should sound like.
After you’re comfortable with the tone pairs, you can use the Read Chinese! website as an excellent resource. I would recommend choosing one article at a time to focus on. Pinyin and an mp3 recordings are provided for each one. Since your goal is to practice pronunciation, read ONLY the pinyin, and read it aloud. Don’t get hung up on the characters or on trying to understand what it means. (If you want to work on that, do so after you feel comfortable reading it.) Start out reading as slowly as you need to, exaggerate the tones, mark the places that get you tongue-tied and work especially on those. Keep at it with the same article for a few days at least. Read it again and again until you’re sick of it, then read it a few more times, and THEN pick a new one. I know it sounds boring, but I did this literally for months and it works if you take it seriously and put in the time and effort.
Finally, something that really helps keep me aware of tones as I learn new words is color-coding. When I make my vocabulary flash cards, I always write the characters and corresponding pinyin in one of 5 colors (one color for each tone including the neutral tone). The Chinese dictionary on my phone has a setting to color-code this way, as well, so I’ve matched the colors in my dictionary and on my flash cards. (I have Hanping Chinese Dictionary, which is only available for Android, but I believe Pleco has the same kind of setting.) This might help you out with enforcing the tones for words you already know, as well as learning them from the outset with new vocab in the future. Personally, I color code as follows: 1st tone - red/pink; 2nd tone - orange; 3rd tone - green; 4th tone - blue; neutral tone - black/gray. But you can choose any colors you like! If you want to see what my color-coding looks like in action, there are some pictures here and here.
I hope this helps! If you have questions about anything or need any other advice, feel free to send me another ask or a private message! 加油！