Chinese is a tonal language with a character-based writing system. To understand what this means we can compare it to English. In English the word “horse” can only have one meaning, no matter which tone you use when you pronounce it (e.g. say it in a rising tone or falling tone does not change the meaning of the word).
In Chinese however, if you say “ma” it can mean “mother”, “horse”, “scold”, or “hemp” depending on the tone you use when you pronounce it. Continue reading