My Mandarin pronunciation is passable, but inconsistent, particularly the third tone. This tends to surface when I haven’t spoken it in a while and particularly when I am not focusing, which tells me the skill is somewhere there, but not yet effortless. Not yet mastered.

Usually, it isn’t the third tone in isolation that trips me up, but in combination with syllables of a different tone.

Here are some examples:

  • 股票 [gu3piao4] stocks (3rd followed by 4th)
  • 笔记 [bi3ji4] notes (3rd followed by 4th)
  • 上涨 [shang4zhang3] to rise (3rd followed by 1st)

I sometimes trying to emphasize a word by dragging out its length. This sometimes makes a third tone word sound like a second tone.

A native speaker gave me this feedback:不要把第三声拖得很长. It doesn’t need to be exaggerated. Instead, it should be relaxed, short, but clear.

When drilling core pronunciation building blocks like this, I find it helpful to practice saying words to Siri on my iPhone.