An Interactive Online Module on Tones for Chinese-as-a-Foreign-Language (CFL) Learners


For her Miller Mini-Grant project, Shenglan developed a module for Chinese-as-a-Foreign-Language (CFL) learners to use to learn tones in Mandarin Chinese. Chinese is a tonal language. The same syllable with different tones is represented by different characters and has different meanings. For instance, /ma/ has different meaning when spoken with different tones: it means “mother” with the high tone /má/, “linen” with the mid-rising tone /mǎ/, “horse” with the medially-low tone /mà/, and “to scold” with the high-falling tone /mâ/. Therefore, it is crucial that students learn tones accurately so they can express themselves correctly, avoiding misunderstanding and embarrassment. Learning tones is challenging to learners whose native language is non-tonal, such as English speakers. It is critical that CFL learners understand the importance of tones and acquire the correct tones. This module gives CFL learners a comprehensive view of tones in Mandarin Chinese and provides interactive exercises for them to practice tone recognition and their understanding of tones.

Five short videos were created and there are interactive exercises after each video. The videos are:

  • Video #1: Tones in general; the importance of using accurate tones; the four tones, tone recognition practice.
  • Video #2: The neutral tone; a summary of the tone combinations.
  • Video #3: Tones in sentences; Speaker variation; Tone recognition practice.
  • Video #4: Tone changes; strategies in learning tones; useful apps in practicing recognition of tones.
  • Video #5: Tone differences between Pǔtōnghuà & Guóyǔ; a taste of the main dialects in China. 

Watch the full playlist on YouTube