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Pinyin

The basis of Chinese pinyin can be divided into initials and finales. We have prepared for you the following chart that displays the phonics of the different initials and finales. Click on each spelling to hear the accurate pronunciation. Carefully look over the following description and you will find that we have prepared methods of successfully understanding and mastering these pronunciations. Of course, you can also listen to our audio course and get practical experience by following our host and start accumulating knowledge of pinyin little by little.

Finals
 
 
b
p
m
f
d
t
n
l
g
k
h
j
q
x
z
c
s
zh
ch
sh
r
a ai ao an ang o ong ou e ei en eng er i ia iao ie iu ian iang in ing iong u ua uo ui uai uan uang un ueng ü üe üan ün
a ai ao an ang o ong ou e ei en eng er yi ya yao ye you yan yang yin ying yong wu wa wo wei wai wan wang wen weng yu yüe yuan yun
ba bai bao ban bang bo bei ben beng bi biao bie bian bin bing bu
pa pai pao pan pang po pou pei pen peng pi piao pie pian pin ping pu
ma mai mao man mang mo mou me mei men meng mi miao mie miu mian min ming mu
fa fan fang fo fou fei fen feng fu
da dai dao dan dang dong dou de dei deng di dia diao die diu dian du duo dui duan dun
ta tai tao tan tang tong tou te tei teng ti tiao tie tian tu tuo tui tuan tun
na nai nao nan nang nong ne nei nen neng ni niao nie niu nian niang nin ning nu nuo nuan nüe
la lai lao lan lang long lou le lei leng li lia liao lie liu lian liang lin ling lu luo luan lun lüe
ga gai gao gan gang gong gou ge gei gen geng gu gua guo gui guai guan guang gun
ka kai kao kan kang kong kou ke kei ken keng ku kua kuo kui kuai kuan kuang kun
ha hai hao han hang hong hou he hei hen heng hu hua huo hui huai huan huang hun
ji jia jiao jie jiu jian jiang jin jing jiong ju jue juan jun
qi qia qiao qie qiu qian qiang qin qing qiong qu que quan qun
xi xia xiao xie xiu xian xiang xin xing xiong xu xue xuan xun
za zai zao zan zang zong zou ze zei zen zeng zi zu zuo zui zuan zun
ca cai cao can cang cong cou ce cen ceng ci cu cuo cui cuan cun
sa sai sao san sang song sou se sen seng si su suo sui suan sun
zha zhai zhao zhan zhang zhong zhou zhe zhei zhen zheng zhi zhu zhuo zhui zhuai zhuan zhuang zhun
cha chai chao chan chang chong chou che chen cheng chi chu chuo chui chuai chuan chuang chun
sha shai shao shan shang shou she shei shen sheng shi shu shuo shui shuai shuan shuang shun
rao ran rang rong rou re ren reng ri ru ruo rui ruan run


1.   Initials

Most initials are relatively easy to get the hang of, partly because many closely correspond to a particular consonant sound in English. The most common problems you may run in to when pronouncing initials are as follows:

 

1  Chinese pinyin and English both have sounds represented by the letter ‘c’ and ‘sh’, but their pronunciation is quite different. For example:

 

capinyin: first tone擦)——carEnglish: 车)

shepinyin: second tone蛇)——sheEnglish: 她)

 

The differences in how these initials are pronounced are significant. If you don’t correctly distinguish between the differences of identical letters in pinyin and English then people will find it difficult to understand what you’re saying.

 

2   The below initials are especially tricky to pronounce for Western learners:

 

zh \ ch \ sh \ j \ q \ x \ r

 

The pronunciation of these pinyin initials may sound similar to their English equivalent but there are important differences. Only through constant practice and by correcting errors can you achieve standard Chinese pronunciation.

 

3   English ‘b, d, g’ are often confused with pinyin ‘b, d, g’. However, pinyin are unvoiced and English are voiced. For help, try saying ‘spike’ (p = pinyin b), ‘skate’ (k = pinyin g) and ‘sting’ (t = pinyin d)

 

4 For other English letters that are often confused with pinyin, although the sounds are different, you can find English words that have quite a similar sound to act as a guide, see below examples:

pinyin ‘z’ = ‘ds’ in ‘woods’

pinyin ‘c’ = ‘ts’ in ‘cats’

pinyin ‘q’ = ‘ch’ in ‘cheetah’

 

5  In fact, pinyin ‘sh, ch, zh’ are both similar and different to English sounds – it depends which word you choose in English. Example:

pinyin ‘zh’ is close to ‘j’ in ‘journey’ or ‘June’ but is very different to ‘j’ in ‘Jill’ or ‘jeans’.

pinyin ‘sh’ is close to ‘sh’ in ‘sherbert’, ‘shoe’ or ‘shard’, but very different to ‘sh’ in ‘she’ or ‘sheen’.

pinyin ‘ch’ is close to ‘ch’ in ‘chirping’, ‘Charlie’ or ‘chosen’, but is different to ‘ch’ in ‘cheese’.

The reason for the above is because the English consonant sound will vary a little depending on which vowel sound follows, making it similar to the Chinese sound written in pinyin or quite different. You need to know which finals can or can’t come after which initials in Chinese. For example, ‘i’ and ‘ü’ can’t come after zh, ch, sh.

 

6The two most difficult initials for English speakers are ‘x’ and ‘r’ as they don’t really have any close equivalent in English. You will need detailed instruction on the tongue position for both. Some books say ‘x’ is half ‘s’ half ‘sh’ in English, or ‘r’ is like the first consonant sound in ‘genre’, but I disagree. The most important thing is to stop from touching your bottom lip with your top teeth when trying to say ‘r’.

 

2.   Finals

1  Most important with finals is to divide into the four types开口呼、齐齿呼、合口呼、撮口呼 then drill, and say which finals can match which initials. When doing the above, it’s best to teach the changes in pinyin spelling so you won’t be confused later. For example, ‘iou’ becomes ‘you’ with the semi initial ‘y’ or just ‘iu’ when after a full initial, like ‘jiu’. The most common difficulties for English speakers learning finals are:

 

2  English does not have the high front rounded vowel sound ‘ü’, so students often confuseand 绿. This requires training on the lip and tongue position for high front rounded vowels (English front vowels are all unrounded).

 

3  English does not have the exact sound ‘e’, so students will confuseand, although the pinyin vowel sound ‘e’ is quite similar to the /ɜː/ sound in ‘learn’ or ‘nurture’, so this can be a guide for beginners.

 

4  Pinyin spelling for English learners can be confusing. For example, the high front rounded vowel sound after ‘j, q, x, y’ is always a ‘ü’ but is spelt using ‘u’, such as ‘qu’ , which means you might try to use an unrounded ‘u’ sound instead, if you don’t understand the rules of pinyin spelling.

 

5  The biggest difficulty for English speakers is distinguishing between ‘zh, ch, sh’ and ‘j, q, x’ in certain words. See below:

[zhòu]

[jiù]

绉、救

[chā]

[qiā]

插、掐

[shòu]

[xiù]

受、秀

This is because in English we don’t have any words that have the semi-vowel sound ‘i, u, ü’ between a consonant and a vowel. So ‘shou’ sounds just like ‘xiu’. This confusion requires a lot of practice on words with an initial + medial vowel + main vowel sound, such as the above.

 

 As with initials, most finals in Chinese are also quite straightforward and often correspond to certain vowel sounds in English. The most common problems you might have when pronouncing finals are as follows:

 

a)    Chinese pinyin and English both have sounds represented by the letters below, although their pronunciation is quite different. For example:

 

pinyin: e (ge \ ke \ he \ de \ te \ ne …) — English: e (egg \ leg \ etiquette…)

pinyin: i (bi \ ti \ di \ mi \ ni…) — English: i (bike \ tired \ dice \ mike \ nike)

pinyin: un (gun \ lun \ hun …) — English: un (gun\lunch\hungry…)

 

In order to speak with proper pronunciation and make yourself understood, it’s important to get these finals just right.

 

b)      Some Chinese finals do not have any English equivalent, such as:

 

yu (yu \ ju \ qu \ xu \ lyu \ nÜ…)

 

Many European and American students have problems with ‘yu’, often confusing it with the English pronunciation of ‘you’. If you can’t accurately pronounce words containing this final then your Chinese will be hard to understand, especially for common words such as ‘下雨/to rain’,  ‘出去/to go out’ and ‘继续/to continue’.

 

c)        The following pairs of finals are the most commonly confused by learners:

 

u – Ü

e – ei

iao – iu

Üe – ui

 

3.   Tones

Chinese is a tonal language, so any characters with identical spelling (initial and final) but with a different tone will have a totally different meaning. This is a significant difficulty, as it requires learners to remember tones as well as finals and initials when learning new vocabulary, otherwise you may inadvertently be saying rather odd things when communicating with Chinese. Also, even many foreigners who are quite fluent in Chinese may still sound a bit odd and with a marked ‘foreign’ accent, simply because their tones are not correct.

 

1 The range in pitch in Chinese is much greater than in English, so you may find it very difficult to reach the higher and lower pitches in Chinese tones. For example, the first tone will often be pronounced as 33, third tone as 323 and the fourth as 53. So you will need a lot of drilling and correction of the full range from 1 to 5.

 

2 Although students pick up tones for individual characters quite easily, most mistakes come in connected speech. This is because they don’t know the rules of tonal changes, such as 51-51 to 53-51, 214-214 to 35-214 and 214 to 211. Therefore, you need to know how tones will change in the context of a word, phrase or sentence, with particular attention to the third tone, for example the changes in我想买好表.

 

3 You may find it hard to distinguish between actual tone contours, like high and flat, rising, half-falling and rising, and falling. The fourth tone is considered the hardest to distinguish by English speakers.

 

Below are a few examples of misunderstandings caused by incorrect tones.

 

4)胸毛/ xiōngmáo VS 熊猫/ xióngmāo Chest hair vs Panda

Imagine you’re at the zoo looking for the pandas. You see a zookeeper so go over and ask him; “Where is the chest hair?”

 

5)山西/ shānxī VS 陕西/ shǎnxī Shanxi vs Shaanxi

Shānxī and Shǎnxi are two provinces in China. Shanghai has two streets called ‘South Shaanxi road’ and ‘South Shanxi Road’. If you want to go to the latter but your tones are wrong, the taxi driver will think you want to go to the better-known ‘South Shaanxi Road’, what can you do?

 

However, learning tones is not all that hard. Even if you make a few mistakes, people will still understand what you mean from the context of the conversation. The most important thing is that anyone learning Chinese has got to be prepared for constantly working on their tones over the long term in order to improve.

 
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