|>> || Native Mandarin speaker here, as well speak/understand somewhat a few dialects. |
With all Chinese languages/dialects, you're really going to have to get your tones down before and it gets trickier practicing it with locals since there's also accents to get past.
All in all, I'd say drill the 4 tones into you first, while working on your pin yin, with a different word you'd intend to say with each tone.
Like idk, for example:
fen1 (seperate/divide) - （分）开, fenkai
fen2 (grave) - （坟）墓, fenmu
fen3 (powder) - 面（粉）, mianfen
fen4 (anger) - （愤）怒 , fennu
Do this with whatever pinyin you want, because I mean for myself and other native speakers I know, we don't think about the tones because we all already know it by heart, but if you were to ask us, we have to work backwards kind of in this way to figure out what tone we're looking for.
As for building vocabulary, I'm not certain how to go about teaching this or helping somebody learn for Mandarin, but when I was picking up Japanese, I subscribed to a Kanji of the Day newsletter and learnt the pronunciations from there, as well as the ways to use it, although having a background in Mandarin might have helped make it much easier.
Anyway, here's a link to a Mandarin word of the day website, so you could see if it works for you, it also comes with the pinyin and tones so you can use it in tandem with what I've mentioned above to both build your tonal foundations as well as your vocabulary at the same time.
Aside from that well, I'm not sure if writing is of any concern for you, but there's no easy way to learn that other than to get one of those massively traumatic 习字 books and slog away, I'd say give it pass unless you want to be hardcore. I'm Chinese and I don't even like that shit.
One last small tip, when typing Mandarin with pinyin, words like 女人(nü ren) are registered as "nv ren".
Pinyin's fucking great.