What are the tones in Chinese?

December 18, 2009 | Posted by Chris

Yes, Chinese is a tonal language, so that a word generally derives its meaning from the intonation a speaker gives it. There are four tones in standard Mandarin, not including an unstressed fifth tone. For example, the sound "chi" can mean to eat, to be late, to feel shame, or to scold, depending on whether its tone is flat, rising, dipping or falling, respectively.

Tones need not overwhelm a new student of Chinese. This is because each person, regardless of your mother language, has a natural tonal capacity that is calibrated with practice. Furthermore, no matter what tone a learner unintentionally gives a word, a native speaker will typically understand what is being said. So, tones are nothing to fear, and they will naturally come to you in due time.

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