I can't remember much without mnemonics. In "Hot Soup" John suggested thinking of soups's level surface to remember tang is tone 1. Yes! and the bowl is shaped like a tone 3, which helps with wan3. That got me looking for other happy coincidences and I made a list.
As Nicolas says, mnemonics work better if you build a picture in your mind.
Please add, comment and correct . We can make a list of all kinds of mnemonics somewhere more permanent, if people think it's worth it.
TONE 1 (level, smooth, gliding, on and on....)
汤 - tang1 - soup - imagine flat surface of soup (from John, of course)
班 - ban1 - work, shift - endless monotonous shift, going on forever
真丝 - zhen1 si1 - real silk - smooth flat bed-sheets
风 - feng1 - wind - imagine wind blowing for days over the endless flat prairie
冰 - bing1 - ice - smooth as a skating rink
张 - zhang1 - measure word for flat objects
支 - zhi1 - measure word for cigarettes (a ciggie looks like a 1)
书 - shu1 - book - nice smooth flat pages
桌子 - zhuo1zi - table - smooth flat table-top
飞机 - fei1ji1 - aeroplane - gliding high-up across the sky
出租车 - chu1zu1che1 - taxi - serenely gliding past in the taffic, ignoring you as you try to hail it
香蕉 - xiang1jiao1 - banana - EU considered a law that bananas must be straight (honest!)
刀 - dao1 - knife - looks like a "1"
叉 - cha1 - fork - goes with knife and looks a bit like a "1"
TONE 2 (up....)
床 - chuang2 - bed - imagine bed spring popping UP! (sounds like it, too! Thanks, Bazza!)
鱼 - yu2 - fish - shark's fin sticking UP out of water looks like tone 2
银行 - yin2hang2 - bank - imagine holding UP the bank. If you get caught, you'll hang (sorry, puns again)
忙 - mang2 - busy - imagine work piling UP on the desk, UP to your eyeballs
孩子 - hai2zi - child - children grow UP (too fast)
男 - nan2 - male - think of arrow pointing UP from circle in scientific symbol for male
瓶 - ping2 - bottle - cork popping UP out of champagne bottle
糖 - tang2 - sugar, candy - kid reaches UP for sweets (thanks, Nicolas!)
谈 - tan2 - chat - chat her UP
牛 - niu2 - cow - imagine horns sticking UP (you)
羊 - yang2 - sheep - imagine horns sticking UP (you)
茶 - cha2 - tea - when nice English ladies drink tea from tea-cups their little fingers stick UP (British will recognise this)
船 - chuan2 - ship - sails UP onto the high-seas
TONE 3 (U-shaped, wave-shaped, up and down, swaying, undulating...)
碗 - wan3 - bowl - shaped like tone 3!
等 - deng3 - to wait - pacing up and down as you wait
酒 - jiu3 - wine, alcohol - a drunkard swaying, staggering
果 - guo3 - fruit - swinging in the trees in the breeze
吵 - chao3 - noisy - think of sound waves on an oscilloscope
炒 - chao3 - stir-fry - wildly toss veg around in the pan
饼 - bing3 - pancake - up & down & up & down as you toss it
狗 - gou3 - dog - tail wagging
马 - ma3 - horse - shape of a horse's back
死 - si3 - dead, to die - tone is shape of a grave
烤 - kao3 - roast - big fat pig turning on the spit
脑 - nao3 - brain - imagine running your finger over the over the undulating surface of a brain, up and down over the wet bumps and wrinkles, ugh!
懂 - dong3 - understand - in the wrinkled brain
想 - xiang3 - think - in the wrinkled brain
笔 - bi3 - pen - pen-top moves up and down as you write
写 - xie3 - write - pen-top moves up and down as you write
奶 - nai3 - milk - tone 3 is breast-shaped
whuich also helps with
母 - mu3 - mother
姐姐 - jie3jie - big sister
两 - liang3 - two, a pair
女 - nu3 - female
美 - mei3 - beautiful
喜欢 - xi3huan - to like - tone 3 is shaped like a big grin!
水 - shui3 - water - waves on sea, ripples on stream
海 - hai3 sea, ocean - with waves
老鼠 - lao3shu3 - rat, mouse - caged lab rat/white mouse running in its wheel
腿 - tui3 - legs - backwards & forwards, up & down, running, walking, cycling
走 - zou3 - walk - legs go backwards and forwards
跑 - pao3 - run - legs go backwards and forwards
躺 - tang3 - to lie down - when I lie down, my old bed makes a U curve (thanks, Nicolas!)
火 - huo3 - fire - flames flickering
角 - jiao3 - corner - tone 3 is corner shape(ish)
鸟 - niao3 - bird - flapping its wings
苦 - ku3 - bitter - face wrinkles at bitter taste
冷 - leng3 - cold - shivering, jumping up and down to keep warm
雪 - xue3 - snow - ???? all I can think of is the Hydrological Cycle
雨 - yu3 - rain - ???? all I can think of is the Hydrological Cycle
早 - zao3 - early - staggering out of bed
找 - zhao3 - to look for - up & down, backwards & forwards, searching everywhere
老 - lao3 - old - and wrinkled, unsteady on feet
TONE 4 (down....)
肚子 - du4zi - belly - big beer-belly hanging DOWN over belt
胖 - pang4 - fat - rolls of fat hanging DOWN
电 - dian4 - lightning, electric - lightning striking DOWN
动物 - dong4wu4 - animals - our four-legged friends - most have four legs.
烫 - tang4 - hot - soup is so hot that I quickly put DOWN the bowl on the table (thanks, Nicolas!)
刻 - ke4 - quarter (of an hour) - one-fourth
半 - ban4 - half - axe coming DOWN to chop you in half
慢 - man4 - slow - you're in a car with a mad driver, you shout: slow DOWN!
太太 - tai4tai - Mrs, wife - always puts her foot DOWN
钥匙 - yao4shi - key - ???????
最后 - zui hou - the last - 4th tone is the last tone
坐 - zuo4 - sit (DOWN)
坏 - huai4 - broken, not working - computer's DOWN again
弟弟 - di4di - little brother - big brother looks DOWN at him
妹妹 - mei4mei- little sister - the smallest, whole family looks DOWN at her
怕 - pa4 - afraid - police shouting: get DOWN!!!!
睡 - shui4 - sleep - lie DOWN to sleep
信 - xin4 - letter - imagine it dropping DOWN into letter box, onto your doormat
站 - zhan4 - bus-stop, station, a halt - bus slows DOWN to stop
住 - zhu4 (zai) - live (at) - put DOWN roots
病 - bing4 - illness - you go DOWN with an illness, it lays you low, linked to li - pill4; 药 - yao4 - medicine; pian4 - tablet - imagine the nasty feeling as you swallow and they scrape DOWN your throat.
忘 - wang4 - to forget - you put something DOWN and forget it (I always do)
对 - dui4 - yes, correct - nod your head
厕所 - ce4suo3 - toilet - you press the handle and the water comes down the pipe and round the U-bend
周末 - zhou1mo4 - weekend - party on party on party on party on... fall over!
城市 - cheng2shi4 - city - rise and fall of Rome
自行车 - zi4xing2che1 - bicycle - setting off, you push the peddle down, the peddle comes up again and off you glide
白米饭 - bai2mi3fan4 - boiled rice - you lift it to your mouth, you chew, you swallow
I don't know if my mnemonics are much help to other people. (Mnemonic puns weren't, even though I've learned over 100 words with that technique.) Some are a little (!) far-fetched. Maybe my brain's just odd. Even if nobody's interested, posting them helps me remember, and if the thread just dies, no problem.
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