Ep01: Basic Tones

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Bite-size Taiwanese | Pronounce it like a Pro
Ep01: Basic Tones

In this first episode of Pronounce it Like a Pro, we learned the 7 basic tones of Taiwanese.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)

When we talk about “tone”, there are two parts to it:

  1. Pitch: High, Mid and Low
  2. Contour: Flat/Level, Falling, Rising or Stop

Tone 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 are the long tones, and Tone 4 and 8 are the short tones that end abruptly in a stop (i.e. -p, -t, -k, or glottal stop, written as “-h”).

When we write Taiwanese using the Tâi-lô (TL) Romanization system or the Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) Romanization system, the tones are marked with a diacritic on the core vowel of each syllable.

Below is a summary of the 7 Taiwanese tones.

7 Basic Tones of Taiwanese

You can also check out the tone diagrams on our website.


Pitch Contour

Sounds like...



High Flat

When a doctor asks you to open your mouth and say “Ahhhhh”.

Kha” /kʰa˥/ leg, foot

Sann” /sã˥/ clothes

He” /he˥/ that

Tshia” /tɕʰia˥/ car, vehicle


High Falling

When you’re angry and you’re shouting: “No! Hey!

Pháng” /pʰaŋ˥˧/ bread

” /hə˥˧/ good, well

Tsuí” /tsui˥˧/ water

Tshiú” /tɕʰiu˥˧/ hand, arm


Mid Falling

A sigh, “ugh”, or if someone punches you in the gut “uh”.

Tshù” /tsʰu˨˩/ house, home

Khòo” /kʰɔ˨˩/ pants, trousers

Tshài” /tsʰai˨˩/ vegetables; a dish

Kuàn” /kuan˨˩/ measure word for bottles


Mid Stop

Huh...” that’s interesting. Or when you catch someone staring at you and say: “What, what are you looking at?”

Tsiap” /tɕiap̚˨/ juice

Pit” /pit̚˨/ pen, writing utensil

Sik” /siək̚˨/ color; appearance

Bah” /baʔ˨/ meat, flesh


Low Rising

Really?”, when you can’t believe it.

Thâu” /tʰau˨˦/ head

Lâng” /laŋ˨˦/ person, people

” /te˨˦/ tea

Tsînn” /tsĩ˨˦/ money



(merged with other tones)



Mid Flat

In meditation or yoga, you have that mantra, “ohm” that you hold in either the middle or lower part of your voice.

Pn̄g” /pŋ̍˧/ cooked rice; a meal

” /mĩ˧/ noodles

Lōo” /lɔ˧/ road; route

Bīn” /bin˧/ face


High stop

Wut?!”, when you’ve heard something shocking.

Lia̍p” /liap̚˥/ measure word for round objects

Jı̍t” /dʑit̚˥/ day; sun

To̍k” /tɔk̚˥/ poison; cruel

Gue̍h” /gueʔ˥/ month; moon

7 Basic Tones of Taiwanese
1 2 3 4 5 (6) 7 8
sai 獅 hóo 虎 pà 豹 pih 鱉 kâu 猴 (káu 狗) tshiūnn 象 lo̍k 鹿
lion tiger leopard soft-shelled turtle monkey dog elephant deer

In Taiwan one common way to help children remember the tones is the “tone animals”. It is a phrase comprised of seven (or eight) animals, each of which has a different tone. The students would memorize this phrase as well as the melody of it. So whenever they want to know which tone is which, they could refer to this template they have learned by heart.

Try practicing it a few times yourself. It will be helpful for you to establish a melody template of Tone 1 to Tone 8.

Music Credit: TeknoAXE

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