One of the first concepts you need to learn when learning Mandarin Chinese is tones (四声 sìshēng).
Indeed, Chinese is a tonal language which means that according to the tone you give to a word it may change its meaning. Tones are an essential part of proper pronunciation. In Mandarin Chinese, many characters have the same sound. Therefore mandarin tones are necessary when speaking Chinese in order to differentiate words from each other.
First tone: The first tone is high and flat. Some feel that it sounds “robotic” because it is monotone.
Second tone: rising, start from a lower pitch and end at a slightly higher pitch
Third tone: falling rising, start at a neutral tone then dip to a lower pitch before ending at a higher pitch
Fourth tone: falling, start the syllable at a slightly higher than neutral pitch then go quickly and strongly downwards
Neutral tone: The neutral tone is said to be “light” or “de-emphasized,” meaning you don’t have to give it the same amount of stress, and it should actually be a bit shorter than the other tones.
Mandarin tones are used to determine which word is being implied. For example, the meaning of mǎ(horse) is very different from mā (mother).
Thus when learning new vocabulary, it is really important to practice both the pronunciation of the word and its tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences.
Believe it or not, Mandarin Chinese isn’t the most complicated tonal language in the world.
The Hmong language (which is spoken in China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand) can have as many as eight tones.
Although perfecting them is going to take some practice: it’s said that it takes about 2,200 hours (which is equivalent to 1.69 years or 88 weeks) to achieve a proficient level in speaking and reading Chinese.