Mandarin Chinese Tonal Acquisition by Thai Speakers

  •  Apichai Rungruang    
  •  Yanhong Mu    


The aim of the present empirical study is two-fold. The first aim is to investigate why Thai university students perceive a certain tone better than others or why a certain tone is more difficult to perceive than others. The second aim is to examine to what extent Thai university students can perceive four Chinese Mandarin tones. 14 volunteer university students (2 males; 12 females) participated in the study. Research tools were structured interview and the perception test. The findings from the interview reveal that 9 out of 14 (64%) students claimed that tone 4 was the easiest tone either to perceive or produce. In contrast, 10 out of 14 (71%) stated that tone 3 was the most difficult one to perceive. The qualitative data findings from the interview were greatly consistent with the quantitative data ones from the perception test. That is, Thai speakers performed well in tone 4 (mean scores 24.92 or 99.68%) and tone 1 (24.35 or 97.40%). On the other end of the scale, they had some difficulty identifying tone 2 (21.42 or 85.68%) and tone 3 (19.50 or 78%). It can be concluded that firstly, the hierarchy of tone accessibility from the least difficult to the most difficult one was tone 4 > tone 1 > tone 2 > tone 3. Secondly, students’ native language (Thai) or L1 plays a crucial role to their tonal acquisition when Thai speakers deal with foreign lexical tones. For one important reason, tones 1 and 4 in Chinese are very similar to the mid tone and the falling tone in Thai, respectively. 

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