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I'm planning to start learning Chinese because I begin classes on the language in January. From what I've read, Mandarin has five tones. I see that in pinyin writing, the marks above the letters show you which tone to use (yes?).

So if Chinese characters don't show which tone to use, and depending on the pronunciation, can mean many different words, how do you read in Chinese and tell which word is meant?
EveRaine's avatar

Beloved Phantom

        _______________________________________

          Oh my, I guess that's what you decided to do!
          Good luck and all that, my dear!
EveRaine
        _______________________________________

          Oh my, I guess that's what you decided to do!
          Good luck and all that, my dear!


Yes---I was going to tell you, but I didn't know you were online! I decided to do the Chinese minor. I wanted linguistics instead, but my school doesn't teach that... it'll be a fun challenge!
Each Chinese character already comes with a tone.

To illustrate: The romanization for the following are all "gai", with the first, third, and fourth tone respectively - 该, 改, 盖. They are completely separate characters. So when you see the first character, you know it's pronounced with the first tone. It wouldn't be pronounced with another tone, because that would be a different character. I think the confusion really comes from associating it with English, as they're completely different systems.

Hope that helped some. Good luck with your courses!
Aries Angel
Each Chinese character already comes with a tone.

To illustrate: The romanization for the following are all "gai", with the first, third, and fourth tone respectively - 该, 改, 盖. They are completely separate characters. So when you see the first character, you know it's pronounced with the first tone. It wouldn't be pronounced with another tone, because that would be a different character. I think the confusion really comes from associating it with English, as they're completely different systems.

Hope that helped some. Good luck with your courses!


Thank you for the answer!

My confusion mainly stems from the fact that I've never attempted to learn Chinese before, so I'm still learning the very basics. I'm used to working with Japanese.

What you're saying makes sense. So, if I may ask another question, when you have one character (is it hanzi in Chinese?), will that character ALWAYS be one word or one pronunciation? I understand some words take more than one character, but will the pronunciation change then?

I ask because it's like that in Japanese. If you have 見, it can be 見つける (mitsukeru) and 見物 (kenbutsu) among other things. Do pronunciations change in Chinese?
If you already know some Japanese, I have good news for you. Chinese is much simpler in terms of rules and grammar.

And yes, each hanzi always consists of one syllable only. They're generally pronounced the same, but there are some exceptions. For example, the particle '了' (used at the end of a sentence to indicate that something is in the past/finished) is pronounced 'le', but the same character in 了解 (which means 'understand') is pronounced 'liao'. So whenever those two characters are together, it would be read as 'liao jie'. These characters that have different pronunciations depending on what's directly next to them are in the minority though. You'll pick them up from experience or when such a word is taught in class. (Teachers might mention the alternate pronunciation, but generally don't have you worry too much about them until later on.)

I must say, you're quite a proactive learner. Where do you find students like these anymore! Your profs are lucky to have you. =)
Aries Angel
If you already know some Japanese, I have good news for you. Chinese is much simpler in terms of rules and grammar.

And yes, each hanzi always consists of one syllable only. They're generally pronounced the same, but there are some exceptions. For example, the particle '了' (used at the end of a sentence to indicate that something is in the past/finished) is pronounced 'le', but the same character in 了解 (which means 'understand') is pronounced 'liao'. So whenever those two characters are together, it would be read as 'liao jie'. These characters that have different pronunciations depending on what's directly next to them are in the minority though. You'll pick them up from experience or when such a word is taught in class. (Teachers might mention the alternate pronunciation, but generally don't have you worry too much about them until later on.)

I must say, you're quite a proactive learner. Where do you find students like these anymore! Your profs are lucky to have you. =)


I ordered a Chinese textbook when I decided to learn this, and it should arrive today. "Integrated Chinese, Level 1 Part 1 Textbook," plus the workbooks that come with it since I'll need them for class anyway. Are they any good, do you know? Kinda belated a question, but...

Anyway, I'm excited that rules and grammar are easier! So excited! And I found a list of Chinese words on iknow.jp (oddly enough), and it looks like many words use the same characters that Japanese does, albeit with different meanings. Ever since I realized that, kanji studies (hanzi too I guess!) have been going so much faster and easier for me.

May I ask [yet another] question, if you don't mind? Do you know where I could find good resources for pronunciation? I think I can get the hang of the tones if I listen to enough recordings, but I'm worried about saying the actual words correctly.

And thank you so much for those kind words. I'm blushing! I wish I could say "oh yes, I put this same amount of effort in every class, aren't I amazing," but the truth is, languages are one of the few things I have a love and talent for. I put everything I have into practicing them by myself before classes because I don't always catch on as quickly in a classroom setting. It either goes too quickly or too slowly.

So, if I get a grasp on as much as I can before January, I'll be ready to benefit greatly from the classes because I won't be as confused. That's what I did with Japanese, and while I already know the grammar and words they're teaching us, I pick up lots of tricky and useful little things in addition to the practice in speaking and listening I can't get at home.

Anyway, I'm blathering. Thank you very much for all your help, I can't tell you how excited I am about it all.
Dissonant Serenity


I'm afraid I can't help you with textbook recommendations, as I'm only familiar with those in traditional Chinese and it seems you're learning simplified. However, I can recommend a website: www.nciku.com

It's mainly a dictionary but also has other learning tools, and if you look up a word in Chinese, most words and sample sentences have a 'listen' function so you'll be able to hear how they're pronounced. The best way to perfect pronunciation is by listening to actual people though, and the next best option is audio CDs, which usually come with any comprehensive language learning textbook.

I see your method there. If you keep that enthusiasm going and have a habit of previewing to boot, you'll have nothing to worry about!
Aries Angel
Dissonant Serenity


I'm afraid I can't help you with textbook recommendations, as I'm only familiar with those in traditional Chinese and it seems you're learning simplified. However, I can recommend a website: www.nciku.com

It's mainly a dictionary but also has other learning tools, and if you look up a word in Chinese, most words and sample sentences have a 'listen' function so you'll be able to hear how they're pronounced. The best way to perfect pronunciation is by listening to actual people though, and the next best option is audio CDs, which usually come with any comprehensive language learning textbook.

I see your method there. If you keep that enthusiasm going and have a habit of previewing to boot, you'll have nothing to worry about!


I thought it was simplified, but the textbook says traditional. This is probably a stupid question, but could you please tell me the difference between the two?
Dissonant Serenity
I thought it was simplified, but the textbook says traditional. This is probably a stupid question, but could you please tell me the difference between the two?


Simplified Chinese has fewer strokes, and fewer characters in general. Knowing either one doesn't necessarily mean you can also read the other because some characters are very different. Though there are also some simpler ones that are easy to guess. Here are a few examples; some of the simplified characters still retain components of the traditional, some look completely different.

贝 // 貝
习 // 習
声 // 聲
马 // 馬
会 // 會


Simplified is a lot easier to learn than traditional, but traditional has more "soul". Simplified is used in mainland China and Singapore, and traditional in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Aries Angel
Dissonant Serenity
I thought it was simplified, but the textbook says traditional. This is probably a stupid question, but could you please tell me the difference between the two?


Simplified Chinese has fewer strokes, and fewer characters in general. Knowing either one doesn't necessarily mean you can also read the other because some characters are very different. Though there are also some simpler ones that are easy to guess. Here are a few examples; some of the simplified characters still retain components of the traditional, some look completely different.

贝 // 貝
习 // 習
声 // 聲
马 // 馬
会 // 會


Simplified is a lot easier to learn than traditional, but traditional has more "soul". Simplified is used in mainland China and Singapore, and traditional in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.


It seems as though it's two languages in one!

Well, which one would be better to learn first, would you say? I would eventually like to translate between Chinese, English and Japanese, so I'll obviously need both, but...
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Tiny Cub

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excuse me if I may jump in~

I'm a high school sophomore taking my first Mandarin class this year, and I could maybe help you?

As for textbooks, I can't really compare or contrast any of them, but I know we use 真棒 (zhen ((first tone over the e)) bang ((fourth tone over the a)),) which is the level 1 book by a company called EMC, and it's pretty nice. It has a few odd features which it explains in the first few pages, but on the whole seems fairly complete and helpful.

Simplified is indeed the script of the PRC, and therefore is kind of the main script, but Traditional may help you read Simplified a little better, so the decision of which to learn first is mainly between yourself and possibly your professor/teacher/whoever. My teacher is from the PRC so we're taught Simplified. It only differs in the script, they pronounce things the same.

Sorry if I've parroted anything Aries said, and feel free to ask me anything else if need be~ .w.
Dissonant Serenity
It seems as though it's two languages in one!

Well, which one would be better to learn first, would you say? I would eventually like to translate between Chinese, English and Japanese, so I'll obviously need both, but...


That depends on the individual. Some say it's faster to learn the simplified version first, others find it easier to learn traditional in the beginning because deducting strokes instead of adding to them is an easier learning curve. If you're good at memorizing, you'll pick up a bunch of simplified characters pretty quickly. If you're a visual/creative learner, you might be more inclined to learn the traditional first since most characters are made up of smaller components that tell a story.

I always like to use this example because it's pretty cute:
-- This is the traditional form of learn/study, and also the first character of 'school'. The top consists of two hands throwing knowledge (pictured as x's in the middle) down a roof (the horizontal line in the center) under which sits a child (). The simplified version of this character is , which is easier to learn by memorization, but can't do the storytelling thing as well. Which way seems easier or more appealing to you?

Ultimately, you'll have to go with whichever system your school teaches, right? As long as it's a solid program, starting off with either one should be okay.
Aries Angel


I just found out that I, being very silly, bought the wrong textbook... mine is traditional, whereas the school wants us to learn simplified first.

In any case, I think simplified first might be the best way for me to go because a lot of the characters in simplified Chinese seem to be used in Japanese as well, 学 being one of them. Since I am to study both, it would be a good way to practice Japanese kanji at the same time. I'm going to have to learn both simplified and traditional if I want to get anywhere with it anyway, so hopefully working with kanji and simplified hanzi at once will cement them in my brain by the time I get to traditional hanzi.

Thank you so much for all your help, by the way. I very, very much appreciate it.
Dissonant Serenity


No problem, always happy to help.

And I'll mention this in case you're interested~ The Japanese adapted some characters into simpler forms a long time ago, and the Chinese actually borrowed some of those when they reformed their own, which is why you'll find shared characters between the two. Kanji uses traditional hanzi as well, though. Just a heads up. I hope you don't get too confused!

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