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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What are tones?
Many Cantonese learners find the tones confusing, because the intonation in Cantonese is very different from most of the other languages. Tones is the use of pitch to distinguish meaning. Each Chinese character comes with a tone, and it is important to pronounce Cantonese correctly, because there are so many words that come with the same Jyutping spelling. If a person doesn’t pronounce the tone right, a listener may get something completely different from what they actually meant to say.
Let's get into more details. How many tones are there?
There are six tones in Cantonese:
The 1st tone is high and steady. 絲 si1 "silk."
The 2nd tone starts with a low pitch and rises to high pitch. 史 si2 "history."
The 3th tone is a mid tone, it's pronounced in the middle of your range and is steady. 試 si3 "try."
The 4th tone is the lowest tone. 時 si4 "time."
The 5th tone is another rising tone, it starts low then rises to the middle of your range. 市 si5 "city."
Lastly, the 6th tone is low and steady, but not as low as the 4th tone. 是 si6 "is."
Do tones really matter?
It’s not only important, but crucial to master the different tones in Cantonese. Just like how mispronouncing a sound or misreading a character can have a huge impact on meaning. Using the wrong tone can drastically change the meaning of a word or sentence too.
For example, 媽(maa1) in the 1st tone means "mother", while 麻(maa4) in the 4th tone means "linen", and 馬(maa5) in the 5th tone means "horse". Don’t get them mixed up!


How was it? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)