Mnemonics for Mandarin tones?

Hi Gabriel, The section in Fluent Forever about using mnemonic devices to remember word genders struck me as very effective and I was thinking of adapting it for memorizing tones in Mandarin (which doesn't have genders). There are 5 tones in Mandarin (the classic 4 plus the neutral tone) so that's not very many different mnemonics to learn, but they will apply to EVERY word in the language with compound words having more than one tone. For the first tone (high, level tone) I'm thinking of picturing an airplane in the sky towing whatever the subject word is like a banner or maybe have the subject hanging onto the wing. For the second tone (mid, rising tone) I'm thinking fire. For the third tone (dipping tone or a low tone) I'm thinking crumbling like a pile of rocks and then reassembling. For the fourth tone (high, falling tone) I'm thinking a waterfall. For the neutral tone I'm drawing a blank. I thought about not using a mnemonic for it at all, but I'm worried I will confuse it with words for which I just can't remember the mnemonic. Do you think this would be a good idea? Having something to cement the tones in my brain would really help, but I'm concerned that having one or more mnemonics attached to every word my be a bit much. Especially for abstract words like Yuǎn (Far away). Also, do you put your mnemonics directly on your flash cards? In the extra info field? Thanks for the help!

* Originally posted by Hacksaw.

Didn't find what you were looking for?

New post
Was this post helpful?
0 out of 0 found this helpful

Comments

21 comments

  • @Hacksaw: Absolutely use mnemonics for this. It'll help a lot. What I'd suggest in terms of changes is to consistently use objects here, because it's hard to attach actions like "crumbling like a pile of rocks and then reassembling" to "to eat" or "blue". Objects, like your 'airplane' are a lot more flexible (dog/fire/to eat/blue: a dog surfing an airplane like a surfboard, airplane smashes into something and sets it on fire, eating a plate of airplanes for breakfast, blue airplane flying against a blue sky = stealth airplane, etc.)

    Do make a 5th one for the neutral tone. In terms of flashcards, I'd make 5 mnemonic flashcards to keep them all straight and then only use the mnemonics in my head from then on. I used to keep mnemonic data on my actual vocabulary cards, but I found that I get a lot better at using them automatically if I keep that info off of my flashcards, and just force myself to make sure that I'm remembering the tones accurately every time I review, whether or not I remember the particular mnemonic imagery I used.



    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
    0
  • Thanks Gabriel. I'll do that.

    I'm thinking the mnemonic objects would be most effective if they have some sort of inherent motion to them as well. Something like "airplane" or "robot" would be a lot more flexible than "fence post".

    For future reference, do you prefer "Gabriel" or "Gabe" or something else?

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • You get pretty good at coming up with elaborate stories, even for objects like fence post (most things are weaponizable :) )

    I go by Gabe about 75% of the time, but Gabriel's just fine too!

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
    0


  • You get pretty good at coming up with elaborate stories, even for objects like fence post (most things are weaponizable :) )


    LOL!

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Hey, sorry to bring up such an old thread, but I came across this thread a long time ago and gave it some thought. When I started learning Mandarin again (I learned it before), I didn't use any mnemonic devices, but started having problems with some words. I felt I was too lazy to implement the technique stated here, so I googled what other Mandarin learners did: colouring the Chinese characters.

    I've been thinking if colours are actually a viable alternative for this. You could have pictures with certain colours to remind you of the tones (or you could poorly photoshop the colours in).

    A funny story about how I came to think of this thread again: I was actually learning a different language that had modifiable base words that were either a verb, adjective, or noun (an agglutinative language) and was having problems trying to remember each type of word, so I thought of using colours. I've been wondering if colours could be used as a valid mnemonic device for learning words that don't have a fixed form (like learning gender pronouns, which only applies to nouns and not adjectives or verbs). Curious to know if anyone had experience experimenting with this and if there are any negative ramifications for it.

    * Originally posted by jcr.
    0
  • Hi jcr, no need to apologize for resurrecting an old thread. The information in the threads here is not really something that ever expires.

    The main issue I see with coloring the Hànzi is that it goes against Gabe's advice in the second post of this thread where he states he had better results keeping the mnemonics off of his flashcards.

    After spending some time studying Mandarin I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't have much trouble remembering the tones for words. For some reason in my mind mā, má, mǎ, mà and ma are all pretty easy to keep separate. After thinking about this for a bit I think it's because I learn the meanings for the different words at entirely different times so they just seem like totally different words to me. Most of the time I don't even thing of them as being related at all.

    Because of that, I haven't really bothered using mnemonics for tones. I do use mnemonics for remembering how to write the Hànzi though.

    Having said all that, I have seen and even bought a few elementary readers that use coloring on both the Hànzi and Pinyin. if you do decide that you would like to color the Hànzi on your cards you don't need to mess with Photoshop. You could just select the font color when you type them in.

    Oh! I just remembered what I do to learn the tone when I'm first learning the word. I make sure I have the Pinyin spelling on the back of the card with the tone marks in place. That way I don't get any unnecessary clues about tone when the Hànzi is displayed on the front.

    Sorry it took me so long to get to that detail. I've actually gotten REALLY BAD about not making my flashcards. It just takes me so darn long that I dread doing it and wind up not doing it at all. :(

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Have been waiting for @Hacksaw to put pen to paper (keyboard) lately, as he(?) seemed to be one person making progress with Mandarin, and with plenty of ideas. Silence recently, so I assumed he must just, like me, be waiting patiently for the Trainer and Word List to appear. My initial plan was to get started with a bang in late December, but given the delays at FF, I finally decided to start making my own cards – probably a good thing in retrospect. Clearly the delays that FF is experiencing with its Mandarin material are symptomatic of the level of difficulty in preparing material, compared with doing so in a European language – at least for English speakers. Now, even Hacksaw seems to be struggling with making cards, and I can sympathise, having now made about 450 (~90 notes), using the Model Deck (Chinese version) for templates – only “2. Picture Words (with Hanzi)” so far.

    I was on the point of posting to see if someone (e.g. Hacksaw) knew how to make cards more quickly than it takes me – 5 minutes if lucky, but more like 10 per entry: not even close to the minute or so that Gabriel seemed to suggest as a sensible norm. I think I have got things running pretty smoothly, but it still seems hard to reduce the time taken; will have to put on the stopwatch next session for a reality check. But the cards do seem to be effective, so far.

    At the risk of making this post too long, I’d like to list a few things that I have found en route:

    Radicals: Having read what GW wrote on FF about Chinese and Japanese, I decided to start out with the radicals. This led to a Shared Anki deck that claimed to have the 100 most common radicals. This worked OK, although there seemed to be some errors and inconsistencies when comparing it with other sources. For better or worse I modified this deck and then expanded it to the full 214 Kangxi character set. Would be happy to make this available, but don’t know about the legalities and logistics. However, learning the radical is one of the better things I’ve done while waiting for the FF Mandarin material to appear.

    Typing: On the Mac OS, at least, it’s simple to type Pinyin accents using the U.S. Extended keyboard layout. To get Simplified Pinyin, I simply toggle (Cmd-Spacebar) over to the Pinyin-Simplified keyboard, and voilà !

    Positives: There is heaps of free info available online for Mandarin – no end of people learning it and keen to say how they are doing this. (Some of it is quite technical and neat, like a Praat application that lets users see the tone “shape” they produce, compared with the ideal.) For individual characters (toned phonemes), I found a zipped file of Mandarin Sounds that contains 1,183 MP3 files, which can be dragged into Anki. Most are of reasonable quality, with a variety of speakers. The Yo-Yo and SinoSplice web sites are great for tone pairs, which seem to be an essential part of good sound production. Arch Chinese is great for seeing the components of characters as well as stroke order, although I’d be hoping to dispense with that after some time; there are also other classier (but incomplete) stroke order files on commons.wikimedia and other places. For multi-character words, the MultiSearch tool leads to Forvo, but the quality of a lot of the MP3s there is marginal; Audacity can help to boost weak volumes and I still have to experiment further with other fixes. But of course going in that direction can increase the time taken by a significant factor.

    Mnemonics: Tend to agree, so far, with Hacksaw that learning the Pinyin and tones is way easier than learning the characters. For the tones, I have used some colour, but only because this can be easily done in Anki, and not because it seems to help especially. For characters, however, a good knowledge of the Radicals is invaluable, for me at least. This really helps me build a mnemonic story, however stupid it might sound, in order to try to remember how to construct the characters. In Anki’s Extra Info (Back Side) box, I find I need to include some English (esp. mnemonic help for characters), plus usage examples, either via the ‘Line Dict‘ tab thrown up by MultiSearch, or else from the Assimil book that I’m using on the side.

    Negatives: The MultiSearch script is not so useful for Chinese. The Google Images page basically just throws up page after page of pictures of scantily-clad women, almost regardless of the search cue!! Shades of GW’s devushka example! I’ve taken to using the French MultiSearch tool when the Chinese route fails to produce anything sensible, even after searching multiple pages.


    * Originally posted by Lance.
    0
  • Hmm, haha I think there's something I should mention. I actually learned Mandarin as I grew up in school, but I did really badly. Like, I failed for 6-7 years! I regret not taking it more seriously, but hey I was a kid then. However, with that long of an exposure (and of hearing the language in daily life), pronunciation, radicals, stroke order, and characters are pretty much easy to me. Honestly, I feel like I'm cheating here…yet somehow I mix up all my tones still!

    Perhaps I'm being too hasty to jump on the mnemonic bandwagon and should just toil through. As for the other language I'm learning, I guess I'll put that on another thread, if it continues being an issue. Don't want to hijack this thread. :p

    P.S. If anyone needs help with Mandarin, feel free to ask. You'd be helping me too since I keep procrastinating!

    * Originally posted by jcr.
    0
  • Hi Lance. Nice to hear from a fellow 中文学生!

    Yes, I'm still plugging away at Mandarin. While I too have been anxiously awaiting the pronunciation trainer and word list I haven't let that stop me. I've been working my way through a grammar book as well as listening to audio study materials such as Pimsleur. I also found a Mandarin tutor (native speaker) on Craigslist that I've been working with once a week.

    What I have slowed down on is making flash cards in Anki. Not because they weren't helpful (they DEFINITELY are) but because it takes so darn long. I haven't really timed it, but my average time per card is definitely closer to 10 minutes than 1 minute. I've made cards for the vocabulary lists in several of the chapters of my grammar book, but got to the point where I was dreading doing it any more and fell out of the habit. Unfortunately that same dread seems to be associated with Anki in general and I even fell out of the habit of using the cards I already made. However, now that I've taken a break I seem to be better able to make myself do it again. Plus a friend of mine and I have designated a certain amount of time per week where she comes over and we both spend the time studying our various projects. She's not learning a language, but the presence of a friend makes it a little easier to apply myself.

    I ran into the same problem as you with the image search. I often have to get the images I need from the English version of Google. I've also found it helpful sometimes to use the clip art and line drawing search features on Google images. Finding the pictures definitely seems to be the slowest part of the process.

    I have modified the multi search tool to just bring up the following 4 pages:
    https://www.google.com.hk/search?q=糖醋排骨&num=10&hl=cn&site=imghp&tbm=isch&sout=1&biw=1242&bih=640
    http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqtm=0&wdqcham=1&wdqt=糖醋排骨#
    http://www.forvo.com/word/糖醋排骨/#zh
    https://translate.google.com/#zh-CN/en/糖醋排骨

    I find that these 4 usually get me the information I need except for sometimes having to search elsewhere for images. The second one, www.mdbg.net, is particularly good as it acts as a dictionary, source of animated stroke order GIF's, and source of audio files all in one. I just include Google Translate as a sanity check to help make sure I typed in the right Hànzi and also sometimes if I'm making a card with a long sentence I will get the Pinyin from GT as well. You have to be careful because sometimes it gets the tone marks wrong.

    I too spent time learning radicals. I cheated though and just downloaded a shared deck off of Ankiweb. I really found that learning the radicals makes learning Hànzi much easier. Just like you I make up little mnemonic stories about the components of a character. Once I learned the radicals as well as some of the other commonly used components learning new Hànzi became much easier.

    That zipped file of Mandarin sounds seems like it would be a really good thing. Can you direct me to it?

    Cheers!

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Hi jcr!

    Oh cool. I didn't realize you had so much experience with Mandarin already and were just dealing with a particular sticking point on the tones.

    Given that, I think you may be right in adding some sort of mnemonic to help you remember them. I would also suggest concentrating on learning entire phrases that contain the word(s) you are needing to learn the tones for rather than just learning the words in isolation. That will help you build up a feel for how the words sound in actual speech as well as build up the muscle memory of how to say the words.

    I wish I had done more of that at the start. I've been emphasizing complete sentences more lately and I find it is helping me in a lot of ways.

    Since you've had so much exposure to Mandarin in the past are there any particular books or other study aids you would recommend?

    再见!

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Hi Hacksaw ... for the Mandarin Sounds file, there's a direct download at www.chinese-lessons.com/download.htm; also accessible at http://www.speakgoodchinese.org/wordlists.html, where there are a number of other files available (haven't yet tried these out).

    I'll check out the links you've provided for re-jigging the MultiSearch tool. Thanks.

    再见

    * Originally posted by Lance.
    0
  • Thanks a lot for those sound files! They should be good for minimal pair practice. :)

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Hmm, I never actually went through any book or study aid in the past, since my curriculum was all part of the public education. I have heard good things about Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar though so maybe you can check that out!

    * Originally posted by jcr.
    0
  • Hi @Hacksaw ... Thanks for your suggestions of 11th March for modifying the Multi-Search tool. I've created a NEW Chrome version of the app, which seems to work fine. It includes, on top of the 4 tabs of the GW version, the mdbg.net and Google Translate sites. So, more to look at (more time taken?). Naturally I had to replace the specific entries you included text appropriate to the Multi-Search procedure, i.e. "{{!VAR1}}" instead of "糖醋排骨" that your specific search generated.

    A specific question on the audio produced by the mdbg.net site. The quality seems good (usually much better than Forvo or the Mandarin Sounds file I directed you to), but is it possible to download an MP3? I know I could do this by capturing the sound produced into Audacity, using its Soundflower add-on, and then export as a MP3. But this is a bit of a long-winded process. I've tried right-clicking in various places, but no luck yet.

    Cheers, LB

    * Originally posted by Lance.
    0
  • As an update on downloading audio, when needed I've done what was flagged above when Forvo quality is just too bad. That is, download into Audacity (using Soundflower to capture the audio input) and then Export as an MP3. Usually have to first Amplify and sometimes use Noise Removal. However, the LINE Dictionary almost always provides top quality audio for words (and plenty of whole-sentence examples – but I'm not there yet). Even Google Translate seems to work OK as input.


    * Originally posted by Lance.
    0
  • Regarding the Mandarin 625-Word-List, has anyone with more savvy and experience than me (e.g. @Hacksaw) have ideas as to how best to use this very nice resource with Anki? In particular, which style should the cards be. Since a large fraction are compound words (more than one character), this suggests using Picture Words (with Hanzi) [Compounds]. But this presents a rather complex note layout, whereas I can see that the object with the 625 is to get through them ASAP. I've already learned a few hundred Characters/Pinyin, taken from other sources, so in some ways the simpler a note/card layout is, the better/faster it will be for me.

    Will appreciate any input from those who are more advanced level than my modest level.


    * Originally posted by Lance.
    0
  • @Lance: As soon as I finish with Russian (this week, hopefully!) I'm aiming to write a large post summarizing what I've been doing with Japanese. The card model has become kind of huge (23 fields, up to 13 generated cards), but it's been working really, really well and so it needs a blog post (and probably a video) to explain how it works.

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
    0
  • Hi Lance,

    Sorry it took so long for me to reply. Somehow this thread slipped by me.

    Yes, it is possible to download the sounds from the MDBG site but you have to get a little creative. Check this link out as an example: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/rsc/audio/voice_pinyin_cl_mdbg/guai3.mp3 .

    That will load the .mp3 file from their site for the word guǎi into your browser. From there you should just be able to right click and save it. When you want another word just replace the "guai3" part of the URL with whatever pinyin you want. Of course they are using numbers to indicate the tone rather than using actual tonemarks.

    Thanks for mentioning the LINE dictionary above. I hadn't come across it before. I'll have to invest some time playing with it.

    Regarding the Most Awesome Word List You Have Ever Seen, I have to confess I haven't done a whole lot with it yet as far as Anki goes. What I have been thinking I should do is to write a very short story in Mandarin using all the words on a given page and then making flashcards for each of the words that have the complete story with one word blanked out. I'm thinking I would need to include the picture from the word list that illustrates the whole story as well as a picture that illustrates just the word in question so that the cards going from picture to Mandarin make sense.

    I'd be really interested to see the write up Gabe mentioned in the post above about his experience with Japanese! Gabe, did you ever get around to doing this?

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • Hi Lance,

    I noticed your comment in another thread about making stories from the word list presupposing an already mature understanding of the language. I think I may have given the wrong impression by using the word story. I'm really talking more about just a few short sentences using very basic grammar. For example the English verson of my story for the first one might be:

    I sit on the Earth and look up in the sky.
    I see the moon and 1 white dot.
    It is a star.

    I'd prefer to have it read closer to "I see the moon and 1 white dot which is a star." but I don't know the correct grammar for that so I adjusted my story to something I could handle. Even with such adjustments I'm sure I will make some grammar mistakes along the way, but really that's okay! I will at least be learning the vocabulary and practicing vocalizing the sounds of the language. I can always go back and clean up the grammar later. Besides, if I waited until I knew how to say everything perfectly I'd never get any practice at all.

    My best attempt at that story in Mandarin is:
    我在地球上坐。
    我看天空。
    我看月亮和一个白色的点。
    它是一颗星。

    I haven't run it by my tutor yet, but I do see one problem with it that I'm not sure how to fix but I'm not too worried about it. Namely that I've used "上" to indicate "upon" rather than "up". For right now I think that's fine since both are legitimate uses of "上" but I'll make a note to figure out how best to phrase "look up in the sky".

    I'm sure the process of figuring it out will be educational for the same reasons that making your own flashcards is.

    Of course I've typed all this but after thinking about it a little more I think you are right about this approach requiring too much knowledge since this is supposed to be the first 625 words that you learn in a language. Somebody starting out on their first day of studying is not going to be able to do this.

    After rereading what Gabe wrote on page 4 of the awesome word list I think maybe the best approach for somebody who is truly learning these as their first words would be to make the Anki flashcards as normal but use tags in Anki to keep the cards loosely grouped together so that the story concept is reinforced. Maybe put the picture from the AWL on the card as well.

    Sorry to have rambled on so much.

    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0
  • @Hacksaw: No, I still haven't had enough time to get to that post. Korean is in the process of attempting to murder me, and I'm working on preventing that. :P

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
    0
  • LOL. No worries Gabe. My money is on you in that battle. If you ever do make that post be sure to let us know. It sounds very interesting!

    BTW, for anyone interested in my story above made about the first entry from the Most Awesome Wordlist, my Mandarin instructor said I should have combined the last two sentences and just separated them with a comma.



    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.
    0

Please sign in to leave a comment.