It’s not that we don’t have tones in English. No. The tones are hard because English has tones, but we use tone for different reasons.
In English our tones are usually applied to the whole sentence but can also occur on only one word. We use tone to show emotion, attitude, type of sentence (question, statement), etc. As Teddi described it so well: If you asked me “Wanna get some Mexican food?” just think of all the ways I could say, “Fine.” A falling tone might mean I really wanted to or that I really didn’t depending on how high it started. A rising tone might say, “I want to, but…”
The biggest tone problem I’ve noticed for laowai learning Chinese is that we project our English tones onto Chinese sentences–especially the final word. The Chinese tone we know (or maybe don’t know) is correct for that word is fighting in our mind against the tone we WOULD put on the word if it were English. It just feels weird to end a question with a declarative sounding falling tone as we must do so many times in Chinese (duì bu duì 对不对?). We don’t feel right saying someone’s name with a rising tone as if we can’t remember whether it was her or not.
Unfortunately, to really speak Chinese means saying the tones properly, the way Chinese people say them. But the first step is admitting we have a problem, right? Ok, only 11 more steps to go.