I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had in Chinese that have gone something like this:
Random person: what do you like to do for fun?
Me: I like skiing (huá xuě 滑雪)
Random person: You like chemistry (huà xué 化学)???
Me: no, I like skiing (moving my head in a snake/wave like motion trying to get the tones that changes the meaning of “hua” from “change”/”covert”/”melt”/”dissolve” to “slide” and “xue” from “study” to “snow” right.
(Many people at this stage do figure out what I am trying to say but I have one conversation that went on as follows)
Random person: you like melting snow???
(So at this point I am halfway there – at least “study” has become “snow” but my “hua” hasn’t quite made it to slide yet.)
Me: no, no “hua” (massive snake-like rising head movement to try and get my rising tone – think of the tone you use when you say “really?” right).
Random person: ohh, you like skiing!!
It doesn’t seem to matter how much I understand tones in theory – in practice I am always doing chemistry.