[SYWZ] Preliminary work, for a complete immersion in Chinese novels : Chinese pronunciation

Lesson 1 of Toto Grandmaster : Chinese pronunciation

(if this lesson looks boring to you, you don’t have to read it, because it is not necessary at all for the comprehension of the novel, it is just a little bonus for the immersion :p)

There are in Chinese 4 types of tones, corresponding to accents put on vowel letters: a e i o u. When there is an accent in a word, you have to keep it in account for pronouncing the word. The tones are :

-the ‘straight’ tone : ā, where you pronounce the word naturally, the power of your voice trying to stay the same during the time you voice the letter. Exemple: mā = maa with both a containing the same voice power. By the way mā means mother.

-the ‘high/high pitch’ tone : á, where you have to pronounce the word in a crescendo way: the sound starts weak, but then gains in power while you pronounce it. Exemple : má = maA. This is the way you have to pronounce it, the little a having a low input, as the big A has a high input.

-the ‘high then low’ tone : â, where you have to pronounce the word in a crescendo-decrescendo way : the sound starts weak, then gains in power, and finally become weaker little by little. A simple way of memorizing how it works would be to memorize the equation â = á + à. Exemple: mâ = maAa.

-the ‘low/low pitch’ tone : à, where you have to pronounce the word in a decrescendo way :  the sound starts heavy, then loses its power. Exemple: mà = mAa. By the way mà means horse.

Generally, ‘native’ chinese people understand naturally everything about tones, since they had since their childhood, heard and used them nonstop, regardless in willingly or not. But since it feels natural to them, they will often have difficulty to put in word how you use each tone. I just did it in yolo mode honestly XD. But actually, I have some difficulties in speaking chinese. This is because, since my childhood, as I was lazy, when I learned Chinese words and their ‘pinyin’, I didn’t bother with the tone and just learned the letters corresponding to the pronunciation. That’s why I am really better in written chinese than spoken chinese. Well you can compare me to grandmaster in Douluo Dalu, a novel from the same author translated in https://bluesilvertranslations.wordpress.com (by the way, an awesome novel that will let you sticked to it, and make you yearn for more), [SPOILER] the man who knows everything in theory, but is weak in practice XD.

The tones are generally one of the hardest things in the Chinese language to adapt as a foreigner, because different a lot of words with the same ‘pronunciation’ but different tones have different meanings. You have to be careful with tones, you don’t want your mum to believe/think you call her a horse. As a training you can try to read “妈妈是一匹马吗?”(Māmā shì yī pǐ mǎ ma?). I am not besides you so I can’t know if you pronounced it the right way, but the sure thing is that if you listened to all my instructions, you should have made the cut. As for what it means, erm… you don’t really need to know.

It is also the reason why, often, the chinese people sound like they are shouting while they are having a conversation.

In this story, for keeping the “chinese feeling” of the work as well as the immersion in the universe, I will put the chinese pronunciation in letters+tones of each proper noun I translate for the first time (the whole thing is called a pinyin). So please try reading it at least once, you’ll see, it will feel (hopefully lol) good, as if you were speaking chinese too ;).

And by the way, I was lucky and found an article that explains that, kind of close to how I explain it, but in a more ‘professional’ (but less friendly :p) way http://mandarin.about.com/od/pronunciation/a/tones.htm feel free to take a look at it, and at the other article of the same website, as they look suited for learning chinese ‘for the first time’.

Feel free to give me your feedback about this little lesson, and whether you would like, from times to times, that I do some other articles of this kind.


  • Pingback: [SYWZ] Index | tototrans()

  • Very interesting

  • Silchas

    Pretty cool, keep up the hard work.

  • nerfme

    good stuff
    had no idea lolz

  • TaffyGirl13

    OMG haha this is awesome 😀 I’m fluent in speaking Mandarin (including tones) but I would have no clue how to explain it in words. Great job! 🙂

  • Taku Fuji

    for curious readers the chinese question is asking “is mom is a horse?”

  • Victor Ibasco

    Amazing. Thank you so fun. So so much, If you just wait one more year I will join in donating, thank you so much.