Chinese Tone Pairs Practice: The Right Way to Learn Proper Pronunciation

As a beginner, natives may need to use context to figure out what you are saying.  But, is that really desirable in the long-term?  

As a tonal language, proper pronunciation in Mandarin is vital.  Enter “tone pairs practice.”  Mastering tone pairs is the key to later speaking properly in full sentences.  For example, on its own, the 3rd tone is a full falling and rising tone.  In everyday speech, however, it is said much differently.  Only by practicing the 3rd tone in combination with other tones will you advance.

Three years ago, I started learning Chinese using the online courses available at  The concept of studying tones in pairs was first introduced to me by Yangyang, its founder.  I soon realized that this is the mantra of all good Chinese teachers.  

The key is to skillfully learn one 2-syllable word for each of the 20 possible tone combinations.  YoYo Chinese has made this simple by providing a convenient 20-word printable chart, along with a companion audio file, totally free.  I like to call these 20 words, “anchor words.”  When I am faced with a new word, I recall my “anchor word” that contains the same tones as the new word.  Instantly, pronouncing the new word becomes less challenging., a popular Mandarin learning blog, has an excellent in depth article on this very subject.  I decided to take their “tone pairs” word lists a step further with a new 4-part video series fittingly called “Tone Pairs Practice.”  Part one of the series will focus on 1st Tone Combinations. Each video contains 50 words taken from all 6 levels of the HSK.  Native audio is provided, and time is given for you to repeat the words aloud.  

  • Don’t want to watch the video? You can choose to listen to the audio only.  
  • Want to study on the go?  Downloadable PDFs are available for all lessons.  PDFs contain the HSK level the word was taken from, Simplified and Traditional characters, pinyin, and the English definition.

The series is found in the main menu under “Chinese Lessons>Tone Pairs Practice” or CLICK HERE to start studying now.  

Before you know it we will all sound like natives!  Enjoy!

(UPDATE:  Tone Grids are now available, that allow you to pronounce your choice of words at will.  Click here to get started.)

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