Getting the tone correct is one of the challenges of learning Mandarin. Get it wrong and you could unwittingly be saying something offensive or simply talking about sugar rather than soup – could be interesting in a restaurant!
Sound discrimination exercises can be helpful but if they are only done in a whole class situation there will be some learners who still don’t “get it”. Some, but not all, textbooks come with a CD of audio files – this is particularly useful as it’s only by doing a lot of listening that you can really get to grips with the sound of Mandarin and the various tones. Finding an audio file for a specific pinyin sound however, is not always easy and that’s where the guide to Chinese pronunciation on a site like New Concept Mandarin comes into its own.
This guide explains what pinyin is and about the tones, and has a clickable pronunciation table with sound files. You can click on a sound and then compare that with the same sound but a different tone; the movement in the tone is also represented visually. For those pupils who find some combinations of initials and finals tricky, such as words beginning with x, q and zh this can be a really useful tool, and ultimately it can help them along the way to becoming independent language learners.