Chinese Language (Mandarin) has 4 tones, and different words mean different things based on the tone. Let me explain how important this is…I also found out how important it was yesterday.
Tone 1 – No intonation in voice. Represented by a straight line over the letter (I think this tone sounds like singing).
Example: Bā (八) – eight
Tone 2 – Said with an inflection in the voice, like asking a question.
Example: Bá (拔) – to pull
Tone 3 – The voice goes down then up. Represented by a “v” over the letter.
Example: Bǎ (靶) – target
Tone 4 – Said sharply, as if angry. Represented by a downward line over the letter.
Example: Bà (爸) – dad
Yesterday I went to KFC and ordered a combo. I wanted 7-Up, but I wasn’t sure how to say 7-Up but I know that Sprite is Xuě Bì [雪碧]”. I figured that was close enough so I started to ask for Xuě Bǐ.
Pen in Chinese is Bǐ. So when I said I wanted Xuě Bǐ the cashier said oh Bǐ. I realized that she thought I wanted a pen, so I said “Bú shì, Bú shì (no, no)” and tried all the tones for Bi. Eventually an English speaking cashier came and took my order. It was then that it hit me how important these tones are.
If you want to know more about the tones, you can check out this video on YouTube: Mandarin Chinese Lessons: Tones