“Like notes in a song” - that’s the perfect analogy. I would listen to those Newbie/Elementary dialogues 100 times precisely because I was trying to learn it like a song, which gave me a way to remember the tones.
During those years, each time I spoke, I was replaying a ChinesePod dialogue in my head. I had to follow these steps before or while speaking each sentence:
- Get an idea of what I wanted to say
- Figure out which tone I couldn’t remember
- Figure out which ChinesePod lesson had the tone I needed
- Replay the dialogue in my head until I got to that word, so that I could hear the tone
- Say the sentence
If I wanted to tell someone I didn’t like soup, I’d realize that, although I knew it was “tang,” I didn’t remember the tone. I’d start speaking the sentence (我不喜欢喝汤) very slowly, while replaying the “Hot Soup” dialogue in my head. I would hope that I could say it slowly enough that my mental replay could reach the word “soup” before I needed to say the word.
It went like this [stuff in brackets is the ChinesePod dialogue I’m hearing inside my head]:
“我 [spoon tapping on table] 不 [妈妈] 喜欢 [我要] 喝 [喝汤] 汤。”
Whew! That was close. I just barely made it to the right point in the dialogue to hear the 1st tone on 汤 in order to say it correctly.