How many times were you trying to speak Mandarin in the restaurant, but the server completely misunderstands you (or worse, doesn't understand you at all and stands there with a funny, puzzled expression on his face - I digress)? Isn't it frustrating? Don't you just want to yell, "HEY I SAID IT RIGHT, I SWEAR. I MEMORIZED ALL THE PINYIN YOU STUPID..." Well anyway -
I know how you feel. Learning tones is one of the most basic, fundamental lessons in learning Mandarin. Unfortunately, even advanced students of Mandarin find it difficult to accurately pronounce certain tones. I must admit, I'm no expert myself, but here's what helped me:
Watching Mandarin language films. I was a Kung-fu addict from the start, so it wasn't hard getting into Chinese language films, but what I realized was that Chinese cinema was incredibly well shot and directed. Famous directors such as Wong Kar-Wai (Hong Kong, yes I know), Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige really make the Chinese language come to life.
Let me tell you, the first time I watched Jet Li's Hero was the moment I vowed to understand this beautiful language. Unfortunately, the modern Chinese language had decayed quite a bit in comparison to the poetic lines of dialogue and poignant phrases. But you can re-discover this world in Chinese cinema.
The advantage of watching these films, too, is that you will gain a better understand of Chinese culture in general. Watching films like Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine, and Beijing Bicycle really help the viewer to understand the inner layers of Chinese society - a fascinating look into the bowels of the last remaining (successful) socialist economy.
In my opinion, Blue Kite was one of the best films I've seen in recent memory. Although sad, and ostensibly a melodrama, the film captures the essence of China during the Mao era. I recommend it heartily to anybody and everybody - not just to people interested in learning Chinese. It is a wonderful film. Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up.
In fact, the VHS is only $2.08 right now! You can get it here. Or, if you want, you can get the DVD version here.
Another interesting program that I found is called "Learn Chinese from Movies." The program boasts 9 different Chinese film classics (