Chinese tones – Their importance and creative ways to practice them

When I think back to my first Chinese language class five years ago in China I distinctly wince remembering tone drills. Every day we would spend the first 10 minutes of the class being tested on tones. Our wonderful teacher would read out a word or character and we would have to guess what tone she was using. Then the tables would turn and we would have to read words out loud and have our tones corrected. I constantly complained about how useless this was, and how we should be using our time more effectively learning grammar points or new words. Like a typical inexperienced student, I couldn’t have been more wrong! I failed to realize then how important tones are, and I regret not having paid more attention.

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“When your Chinese teacher say’s it’s time to practice tones.”

In total there are four tones*, they are:

  • First tone: a flat high pitch tone, g. 妈, ma1, mum. Like a singer practicing ‘Fa’.
  • Second tone: a rising tone, start from a low to a high pitch, e.g. 蟆, ma2, toad. As if you are asking a question.
  • Third tone: fall and rise, start at a neutral tone then dip lower and end in a high pitch, e.g.马, ma3, horse. Imagine you are surprised.
  • Fourth tone: falling tone, start at a high pitch and strongly drop the pitch down, e.g. 榪,ma4, headboard. My favorite tone, you just sound angry!

*There is also a neutral tone.

Tones are the foundation of being able to speak and understand spoken Chinese. Without them not only are you lost listening to conversations but also no one is able to understand you. Now for the good news, getting tones right is not that difficult if you practice and use a good approach.



The local

Children are already on the path of success with Lingo Bus! The first step to getting tones right is to practice with a local. Not only are all our teacher’s Chinese native speakers but our classes are designed to create a fun and engaging atmosphere. Students will be getting their tones right before even noticing they are practicing them!


Unfortunately, students don’t have access to our teachers 24/7, so what else can they do to improve their tones?

The first step to improving tones is recognition. Being able to speak with the correct tones is difficult if you can’t recognize them, to begin with. Thankfully there are many apps out there focusing on tones, so it’s easy to find one that is suitable for each child. Apart from apps, there are free resources on online platforms such as YouTube, BBC, etc., to help students practice.

Top tip: Most apps or online resources are for adults so can be boring for young children. To make it more interactive and fun we suggest printing out the four tones and sticking them on the wall and having the child run to touch the tone they think is correct. A simpler version could rely on tone flashcards that the child raises.

Games: Music and Simon says

Once the student has begun to recognize tones the next step is to be able to use them. Initially, the best way to practice is through mimicking. A fun way to do this is by playing “Simon says” and having the student repeat our loud and follow what Simon has said. This also helps the student to move beyond one-character tone practice. One-character tone practice is useful for recognition but not for usage, at this point the student should start to link words into pairs and applying the tones. As Mandarin Chinese can sound very lyrical, when practicing longer phrases students can turn the phrase into a song and highlight tones as they ‘sing’. Luckily, there are already plenty of children’s books that focus on teaching tones through songs.    

Top tip: Linking words in a phrase (for example into pairs) will help with tones and fluency. E.g. ‘我是美国人’ ‘I am American’ can be grouped and read as 1 (Wo3 shi4) 2 (mei3guo4) 3 (ren2).

There are many other childhood games that can be adapted to practice tones. It may seem like a task at first but tones are extremely important, the key is not to rush but enjoy the process of learning and experimenting with tones.


China’s e-market growing importance

China, the largest e-commerce market in the world, is now creating a benchmark for the current and future global retailing. The e-commerce market in the country is driven by its mobile-first consumer behavior, innovative social commerce model, and a trusted digital payments infrastructure.

China is a must-play, must-win market for retailers and brands globally. It is already the world’s biggest retail market and the increasing purchasing power of China’s 415 million millennial consumers will sustain future growth. E-commerce is enabling international retailers and brands to enter China more quickly and easily than before through online-only business models.  The rapidly increasing growth of China’s e-commerce sector has also propelled the government to take notice and support this growth.

The retail market of China has never been so simultaneously attractive and challenging. The market is experiencing tremendous growth but the market is fiercely competitive and innovation is constant.

What You Should Know About E-Learning

The face of education continues to shift from the classroom to the computer screen as learners young and old (and everywhere in-between) discover the power of e-learning. Recent developments in internet and educational technology have allowed for rapid growth in the online education industry over the past decade, especially in young learners, and there are no signs of this trend slowing down any time soon. It’s pretty easy to see why.

What we’re seeing is an explosion in the accessibility of high quality education across all fields, ages, and nationalities

In today’s online education market, students (and their parents) enjoy a wide range of freedoms not afforded in a traditional physical setting. Besides not having to drive across town to a brick and mortar learning center, these include:

  • Convenient and flexible scheduling
  • The ability to select from many different teachers and tutors
  • Access to experts in fields outside of standard school subjects
  • A choice in program type and class size

Educators also see a number of benefits made possible by the virtual classroom environment including:

  • Convenient and flexible scheduling (Who wouldn’t appreciate this?)
  • The ability to work from home or anywhere in the world
  • A choice between offering services directly or through an online education company
  • The chance to share their knowledge on topics which don’t fit within a standard curriculum

What we’re seeing is an explosion in the accessibility of high quality education across all fields, ages, and nationalities – and it is certainly something to be excited about.

So how did we get here?

E-learning has its roots in older mediums of distance education, namely radio and television. As early as the 1920s, radio programs were delivering lessons to large college student audiences. As television became mainstream, efforts were made to adapt it, too, for formal educational purposes. ( However, without a real-time classroom environment and easy access to teachers, these methods never took hold on a large scale.

Over the past couple of decades, internet technology has been breaking down these barriers to distance education. For most of this time, the ease of delivering video lectures and quickly exchanging e-mails and text messages has been good enough. These have allowed colleges and universities across the world to successfully launch fully-digital courses. Studies have shown that these online courses can be every bit as effective as learning in a traditional classroom environment. (

Today’s technology takes us one step further. Real-time video conferencing, virtual whiteboards, and passionate teachers specially trained to use them, bring the full power of the classroom to the little screen. Students can now speak directly with a teacher who may be on the other side of the world as if they’re together in the same room. While this may not make a huge difference for more mature students who continue to succeed with older distance learning methods, the ability to deliver a vibrant, interactive, and fun lesson over the internet allows these groundbreaking developments to engage a much younger student audience, too.(

It’s difficult to say what exactly is around the corner, but if recent developments are anything to go by, it seems a safe bet that e-learning will continue to change and improve the educational landscape around the globe.

Learning a foreign language can be easy

Is there anyone who’s never dreamed of learning a foreign language? Of course, not – the ability to communicate with people from other countries, understand their way of thinking and culture can be not only fascinating, but also useful for both career and education. But, even the necessity of expanding knowledge of languages is now well known, the best way of doing that is still to be found. Thinking back on school days, learning foreign languages (similar with other subjects) was confined in a large classroom: teacher solos in front of the students who only repeat and do some exercises.  However, when drilling rules and making exercise is possible in the classroom environment, practicing the language, by communicating and learning to create natural dialogues using it, is rather difficult. No matter how hard we try to create an engaging and effective experience for the language learners, the classroom will probably never be able to completely overcome its limitations. Lack of practice for individual students, limited time for practice, using only targeted vocabulary/grammar, frequent inclusions of mother tongue – those are obstacles for the students while learning the second language in the classroom. Traditional the classroom learning environment is usually described as 60-70% of “teacher talking time” or the  lecture and only 40-30% of group tasks and communicating (usually with other students). So, for many students the only opportunity to get teacher’s undivided attention comes during presenting of essays and papers or oral exams.


According to the Natural Method Theory suggested by Stephen D. Krashen (University of Southern California), conversation is the base of language acquisition. In other words – more you speak the language, faster you improve it.  Every tourist with basic knowledge of the country’s language is a great proof of this theory. While traveling, more you try to create a dialogue with the locals, more they will talk back to you (output), and while talked to you, of course, try to come up with an answer and  make yourself understood (input).

No matter how hard we try to create an engaging and effective experience for the language learners, the classroom will probably never be able to completely overcome its limitations.

Based on the number of researches that analyze cons and pros of learning the language in large classrooms, this learning method has recognized to be quite ineffective when it comes for the language practice.  Therefore, in past several years one-to-one foreign language trainings have become increasingly popular. The effectiveness of training with only one student and the teacher is determined by variety of factors:


  • Individual student has enough time to practice the conversational language with the teacher
  • A student has constant and undivided attention of the teacher throughout the class
  • Student’s strengths and weaknesses are addressed more consistently without the unnecessary competition
  • According to the Natural Method Theory learners acquire language best through the modified input of the teacher. This means that the teacher modifies and adapts their language to student’s unique needs and maximizes both amount and type of their input to benefit the student.




Even if learning the second language has become sort of necessity nowadays – frequent travels, career opportunities abroad, overseas education – finding the right teacher might be still a challenge. One-on-one language learning with a native speaker, and a skillful teacher on top of that, can be together difficult to find, expensive, and hard to fit in your schedule/other. But, thanks to the rapid development of online language training platforms, now the language learning can become as easy as it will ever be. Online language learning allows the student to learn the language at the convenient time and makes the access to the highly qualified native speaking teachers significantly easier. Only for the past year, according to The Guardian, interest to online one-on-one foreign languages learning increased up to 30% and continues growing within every day. Even if the classroom education still holds the leading position due to the school, college and university educating methods, for the extra curriculum, professional development and intensive trainings more and more people choose online one-to-one classes.

Crucial advantage of the online language learning is the opportunity to practice the language with the native speaking teacher with no other students waiting for their turn. According to the recent researches, more and more students (67%) require to have a native speaker as their language teacher due to the absence of the accent and clear pronunciation, full knowledge of the language and the culture, etc.

Students’ requirements for the foreign language teachers


While having this kind of educator can be quite challenging and difficult for the institutions offering large classroom classes, online platforms don’t face this problem. Due to the easy access for both – students and teachers – to the virtual classroom, native speaking teachers are more willing to engage in this kind of language courses.

Overall benefits of learning languages online are getting more and more obvious as the online teaching methods progress and evolve. Positive students’ feedback of the learning materials, effectiveness, convenience and comfort, positive and engaging atmosphere are making the online education more and more popular.


Price of the online courses can be distinctively lower that actual large classroom or live one-on-one classes: according to the observation of G. Stevenson, in 2016 prices for online programs were 30-35% lower than traditional learning methods. It’s explained by the fact that the both teacher and student don’t need anything except for the computer and head set to get started. However, the virtual classroom doesn’t in any way lose to the actual one – engaging and up-to-date materials, interactive classroom tools, variety of activities and easy access to the classroom make online one-to-one classes very effective and engaging.

Online language learning is a quite new instrument that is available for the students of all ages and needs all over the globe. Constantly improving and developing online educational platforms are slowly dislodging regular classrooms allowing individual students to find the best way to learn a foreign language.

-Nadia Noskova (Contributor)