Colored Tones on MDBG

Here’s a cool new thing: MDBG has just added color-coding for tones.

(see the Facebook page for more info)

Yes, it’s one more thing to memorize (red = 1st tone, etc.) but I’m hoping the tone-color associations will become automatic after a while. I expect it’ll be especially useful to help me with my biggest problem: inverting the two syllables of a two-syllable word (like bee and honey).

I’m all for it because it’s just one more “donkey bridge” to help us laowai with Chinese’s biggest challenge.

It’s going to be interesting to see if these tone colors become standardized (i.e. other websites using the same colors for tones). If so, I think there’s potential for a printed dictionary someday with color-coded tones as well.

How cool would it be if this were a common conversation in the future:

A: What are the tones for “teacher” again? I know that “lao” is third, but I can’t remember what “shi” is.

B: Three one.

A: Are you sure?

B: Yeah I remember because it’s green red, like Christmas.

A: Oh that’s right, and “honest” is green yellow: three two.

Is anyone else using the tone colors at MDBG?

8 Replies to “Colored Tones on MDBG”

  1. Colors match those used in the book Chinese Through Tone & Color; I’m guessing a convention is already forming around these colors. This is great!

  2. I like it. I think it will be easier to remember the tones. The only confusing thing here is the examples being color words. Ha, reminds me of a matching task they have at the science museum here in San Francisco, where say blue is written in red, etc. and you have to perform a task which ends up completely befuddling.

  3. Rachel,

    Yes, I thought about that. The problem of “hóng” being colored yellow is similar to “èr” having a fourth tone. It would have been nice if the first four numbers had four different tones, then they could have named the tones according to the same number than had that very tone. Unfortunately, for the colors, most seem to be second tone.

    The tones of the main color words in Chinese are:

    • 1st tone = black, brown
    • 2nd tone = red, orange, yellow, blue, white
    • 3rd tone = purple
    • 4th tone = green

    If the colored tones at MDBG didn’t match other conventions (as Nick mentioned) I would probably recommend changing 1st to black, 3rd to purple, and green to 4th, and then just picking one for 2nd, but I don’t know how important or helpful that would really be. Those colors might not show up as well on the screen/page either

  4. are you sure “shi” is three one?
    i’m afraid it’s the first one. “lao” is the third one.

    Do you know our chinese also have one thing called no-tone(maybe it can be called it, something like the 1st tone but sound lighter than it)? you can see it as the 1st, cause it have no big difference and we don’t distinguish them such clearly.

    i don’t appreciate the color. although it seems intersting, doesn’t “āáǎà” enough? i think it easy to mix the tone with the true color.i just suggest you learn the pinyin which have show you the tone clearly, after several times you see the pinyin of the world, you’ll remember how to pronounce it.

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