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When you learn the tones to say,
You can speak Cantonese the right way!

It took me a long time to realise that I already new the tones of Cantonese. We all do. Every language has tones, we have to learn them as we can find ourselves in trouble if we get them wrong - remember your mum saying: don't take that tone with me!?

Once you realise that every time you hear Julie Andrews singing Doe a Deer, she is telling you the tones of Cantonese, they become much easier to learn. Remember that tone is about RELATIVE PITCH, so you go with what is natural for your voice.

There are 6 tones to learn. You can get them by singing DO, RAY, ME, FA, SO, LA and then changing the order to LA, SO, FA, ME, RAY, DO to get them in the right order. Practice using any single syllable you like in your own language. My kids liked to say the word POO when they were little, you can go with that or dog, tree, cup, beer, whatever you like.

You can use the sound clip below to help you.

There have been different methods of transcribing Cantonese over the years, some of which have been downright misleading, but thankfully now we have a fab system called JYUTPING (literally Cantonese spelling) which simply uses the numbers 1-6 for first tone, second tone, etc.

You may have heard that there are 9 tones of Cantonese and be wondering what happened to the other 3? These are clipped sounds and with JYUTPING all you need to remember is that if the word ends with a k, p or t, then you cut it short.

As we all learned to speak with nursery rhymes, here's one to help you remember the tones of Cantonese. Sing it with the tones in order for each line.

Tones of Cantonese
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The Tones of Cantonese
A rhyme by Jo Wilson

1  2  3  4  5  6

I can sing all the tones

I don't like garden gnomes

I pelt them with big stones

Then they're not garden gnomes

Laa1 laa2 laa3 laa4 laa5 laa6

Maa1 maa2 maa3 maa4 maa5 maa6

Faa1 faa2 faa3 faa4 faa5 faa6

(Keep going with whatever sound you like,

but make sure your pitch alternates

to match the six tones)

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