My Struggle: Learning Chinese whilst Studying Abroad

‘Imagine that you are on life support’, our lăoshī (teacher) at National Taiwan University (NTU) begins, a petit and fiery bespectacled woman in her early thirties, who immediately grabs the class’s attention with her alarming announcement. ‘And your heart stops. The ”beeeep“ sound of the heart monitor is very similar to the elongated, high-pitched first tone in Mandarin. Repeat after me… ’ My crash course in the musical nature of Chinese is at first lighthearted and jovial; the noises I make in the classroom are usually reserved for my Kate Bush impersonations in the shower.  Our lăoshī continues, ’Think of the second tone figuratively, as rising confusion, like ”huuuh?“ The class responds by repeating her ‘huuuh?’, I believe out of literal confusion than anything else. ‘The third tone is perhaps the most difficult to learn, as the sound quickly moves down and up, similar to a gut wrenching stomach pain followed by throwing up, as displayed in the diagram.’

A comical, yet confusing, introduction to Chinese tones.

A comical, yet confusing, introduction to Chinese tones.

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