Difficulties with learning Chinese pinyin and Chinese tones


As a New Year's resolution, I have decided to give learning Mandarin Chinese another try. My first brush with learning it was my senior year in high school- that was actually the first year my school (Belmont High School- near Boston) offered it. Unfortunately, I didn't make the most of that opportunity because senioritis hit me pretty hard, especially during the latter half of the school year.  My second attempt was last year when I upped and moved to Shanghai.  I didn't prepare for that trip very well though in terms of learning the language.  I figured that total cultural immersion would teach me more Mandarin than a classroom environment ever could.  I was wrong.  Nobody in China ever understood what I was trying to say. Now that I'm back in the States, I've decided that the only way to learn Mandarin is to do it properly and seriously.  If I am to make myself understood, I need to start at the very beginning... with dun dun dun- pinyin.  Now I've never been good at pinyin.  The only remnants of pinyin I can remember from my high school days are b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x...  Anything past that sounds pretty horrific.  Does anyone have any tips or advice on learning pinyin? My tones sound pretty horrific as well.  The way how I think of pronouncing the tones is to think of the first tone as being high and even, as if I'm singing a high note.  The second tone rises in pitch, as if you're asking a question.  The third tone is suppose to dip and then rise again.  The fourth tone is my favorite because I feel I can do it almost correctly- it's forceful and falls sharply.  I struggle with the second and third tones the most- I even end up moving my head to follow the direction of the pitch and wind up looking goofy.  If anyone has any tips or advice for how to say tones, I would greatly appreciate it since tones appear to be the foundation for learning the language.

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