If you’re a beginning or intermediate student of Chinese, I hope you tried the Laokang® Tone Test, an iOS app that tests your ability to distinguish the tones of Chinese by ear, which I reviewed last month. Since then, the developer gave me a copy of the Laokang® Tone Trainer. If your Tone Test revealed that your tone distinction could use some work, then you should get the Tone Trainer. If the following review seems long, it’s because there is a lot to this app.
The Trainer is divided into four sections: Start, Learn, Practice, and Test.
The Start section allows you to get a feeling for how the various tone combinations sound in two-syllable words. An interesting option in this section is the ability to hear tones applied to a selection of English words. This should be most helpful to absolute beginners. Listening to either the Chinese or the English for a bit will also get you used to the speaker’s voice before you go on to the real training, which mostly happens in the Learn and Practice sections.
The Learn section offers a progression of activities of increasing difficulty, marked by icons (indicated in parentheses below). You choose to study one tone at a time and that tone will be included in each question (you can see from the icon at the top center of the image that I chose to work on the second tone). All questions consist of a sequence of two spoken syllables that are always ma, but with various tones (for the advantages of using the same syllable throughout, please see the review of the Tone Test).
- In the first activity, you only have to identify which of two pairs you heard (eye, small arrow).
- The second activity adds another possible pair, so that you have to choose the right one of three (eye, large arrow).
- Third, you move on to identifying the tone of each syllable separately, as with the Tone Test, but with your options for each syllable limited to two of the four or five possible tones (headphones, small arrow).
- The fourth and final training activity also has you identify the tone of each syllable separately, but widens the options to three of the possible tones (headphones, large arrow).
This is a very well thought out system that requires increasing discernment on the part of the listener.
The Practice section lets you choose to focus on one tone or to practice them all at once (the icon now shows that I have chosen all the tones). The activities here are the next logical step up from the ones in the Learn section. Again, you first have a multiple choice from among pairs of tones, then you have to identify each tone separately. In this section, however, the number of pairs to choose from is up to four. For the individual syllables, no tones are ruled out, which is just like the Tone Test, but without time as a factor.
A very nice feature of the Trainer kicks in when you get a question wrong. You see a screen that juxtaposes your answer with the correct one so that you can play them both and hear the difference. In addition, you can choose to hear both the right and wrong combination as they occur in actual words.
This is a tiny quibble, but I found the choice of icons for the choice of pairs (eye) vs. separate syllables (headphones) odd. Given that they are all listening exercises, it seems as if headphones could apply to all of them. It’s not a problem once you know how the exercises differ, but the icons didn’t give me any idea what the difference was.
The last section is the Laokang® Tone Test itself, with enhanced feedback. In this version, it keeps lists of your best scores and your most recent scores so that you can see your progress (the free version keeps only one high score and the most recent score). It also maintains a list of the twenty tone combinations that you miss most. Here, too, you can hear examples of the problematic tone sequences in real words, as well as applied to mama. In the screenshot with Test at the top, clicking the compass icon will play rénmín and yínháng. Finally, unlike the free version, it also keeps the detailed breakdown of your most recent test score.
The Laokang® Tone Trainer is unlike anything I have ever seen in an app or on the web. For the cost of maybe ten minutes with a tutor, you can systematically develop your Chinese tone recognition ability, using the statistical feedback to target your specific problem areas. I look forward to the promised update, which will allow you to record yourself for comparison to the example voice. The Tone Trainer is available on the .
Also look for the new Laokang® Pinyin Test (which I plan to review soon) and forthcoming Pinyin Trainer.