No, really. Why does everyone get so scared of Chinese tones? In Mandarin, there are five. In Cantonese, six. There is no tonal sound in either language that you don’t make somewhere in English – consider saying “no” in an authoritative way, with the sound dropping – that’s tone 4 in Cantonese. Say it in a slightly irate way, sound rising, and you have tone 5. So, the tones of which people are so afraid are actually not a new concept at all. Fact is, native speakers of these languages don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of all that tonal jazz – they just do it.
On this subject, spare a poor thought for the student of English, with all the different tones of voice to master – sarcasm, enthusiasm and a whole host besides. Don’t think I’ve ever heard any learner of English complaining about that though. Strange, they also seem to have a pretty good command of the language. I wonder why.
Why do learners of Chinese fail so miserably at trying to say things in the right way? The psychological notion of thinking you can’t do it becomes reality; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, if you think you’re going to succeed, it’s more than likely that you will – in this way, I’m fairly convinced that most anyone can do most anything and it’s just surmounting the perceived barriers that hold them back. Of course, perhaps I’m just talented.