Why Mandarin tones and pronunication are important


If you’re new to learning Mandarin you may wonder whether putting effort into Mandarin’s crazy tones are all that important. Your teacher might give you plenty of pronunciation and tone exercises and really drill you a lot on your pronunciation. If you’re lucky you may even feel your stomach muscles tighten as you’re getting a good work-out drilling those ch,zh and sh sounds. (I’m not really kidding.) Unfortunately pronunciation is important too.

I have a little story to tell you and yes this actually happened. During an introduction.

Below follows a conversation I’d like to share with you:

Chinese lady: “你叫什么名字?”
Laowai (with rusty Mandarin): “我叫 Fu Yi Tian”
Chinese lady: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈” / Hahhahahaha. (Gives no explanation for laughing.)

Twenty minutes pass and a group of Chinese ladies joins us.

Chinese lady (points to Laowai): “这是Fu Yi Dian”
Other Chinese ladies: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈”

My Mandarin is less rusty and as I’ve picked up on *some* of the tone and pronunciation miscommunications issues so I decide to speak next and clarify:

Peckish: “他的名字是福一田。 Like ‘Good fortune – one field’.”

Chinese lady: “Oh 哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈!
I thought it was 付一点 Fu Yi Dian like ‘pay a little money’.”

Everybody: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈!”

Stingy bastard.

Oh dear.

Did I also mention that it’s really important that you also really really really love Mandarin? ;)

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