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Chinese Tone Practice

About this Website

Richard Jefferies

When I started learning Chinese a few years ago I looked around for a website (or a program, or a book and CD set) like this but found nothing exactly like what I was looking for. The idea is an obvious one, but until now, with improvements in speech synthesis technology, it would have been impractical for the sheer number of recordings you would have to make using human voice actors. The total number of recordings to represent all the two character pinyin combinations in these questions is 46,985. Having said that, I actually think using a speech engine is even better than a human actor for this kind of exercise because the essence of a minimal pair is that its two parts have to differ in only one phonological aspect, something a human actor could never consistently achieve. As the API for generating the sound files gets better, or I get better at using it, I will update the recordings.

Users of the website will quickly notice an imbalance in the number of multiple choice "tone pair v. tone pair" type questions and the "name that tone" type questions, compared with the harder sentence based questions. At the moment there are 123 sentence based questions (and counting). The reason for this of course is that these questions have to be thought up, while the other two categories are generated by database queries. The site lets you upload your own sentence pairs to share with the community of users. Since minimal pairs are a kind of low level pun by definition there is obviously scope for some humour, especially when they relate to misunderstandings that could occur in real conversation.

All the definitions used here are from the community maintained and regularly updated CC-CEDICT dictionary.

What is New in Version 3.0

I have enhanced the review options in the listening tests in response to user feedback. Now you can "cheat" by listening to different examples of each tone combination before you make your choice. In fact you are positively encouraged to "cheat" in this way as comparing tones before and after selection enhances the learning process. Additionally, to reinforce the most problematic tones, when you get a tone wrong the next five questions that load up will all be based on the same combination.

About Me

I am originally from the UK but since 2001 I have lived and worked in Spain where I am a programmer and database designer in an energy company. I have been studying Chinese since 2007. I have only ever been to China as a sightseer and this is what is behind my interest in devising tools like this for developing speaking and listening skills without prolonged immersion.

- Richard Jefferies
Valencia, Spain