One good way to pay attention to your tones, and those sounds in Chinese that are so similar, is to spend some time breaking your mouth. I mean 绕口令 (ràokǒulìng) tongue twisters, of course!
I know it may seem like they just exist to annoy people and bite their tongues, but this one really does help with your tones (and the difference between “si” and “shi!”) Can you do it?
四是四，十是十，十四是十四，四十是四十 (sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shísì shì shísì, sìshí shì sìshí) 4 is 4, 10 is 10, 14 is 14, 40 is 40
Often, and you might notice this with certain regions of China, the difference between “si” and “shi” is blurred, and while it’s not too difficult for a native speaker to accommodate for the lack of distinction, it can be pretty difficult for foreign ears to understand whether they meant “yes” or “die”—an extreme example, maybe, but possible, especially when some regions speak rather flatly, without much regard for tones! >_<
Would you like to try another?
吃葡萄不吐葡萄皮，不吃葡萄倒吐葡萄皮 (chī pútao bú tù pútao pí, bù chī pútao dào tù pútao pí) Eat grapes and don’t spit out the skins, don’t eat grapes and spit out the skins
They really are great for fine-tuning your tones, your pronunciation, and your speaking speed. Time to practise, yes? 10,000 times ought to do it! Let me know when you’re done 🙂
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