Learning Mandarin Chinese

 
 
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Quick guides:



Chinese sounds:


A Chinese syllable consists of an initial sound, final sound and a tone mark.
  • The initial sound
    Determined by the consonant in front of the syllable. Usually one letter, except for: zh, ch or sh.
    To pronounce the inital sound look at Table 1.

  • The final sound
    Determined by the letters after the inital and not including the tone mark. Begins with a vowel and can be made of 1 to 4 characters.
    To pronounce the final sound look at Table 2.

  • Tone mark
    Tones marks are always placed over vowels (never over consonants). If there is more than one vowel in the syllable, the mark first goes over the a, e, i, o and u respectively (alphabetical order). The only exception to this rule is when a syllable with "iu" needs a tone mark, in which case the mark is placed over the "u", not the "i".
    To pronounce the tone marks look at Table 3.
For example:

Měiguó

Měiguó in pinyin means United States of America (literally: měi=beautiful and guó=country).
The word Měiguó consists of two syllables: Měi and guó.

So the first syllable starts with with an initial sound starting with "M", a final sound ending with "ei" and a tone indicated by a tone mark on a vowel (= aeiouü), in this example "ě".

The second syllable starts with with an initial sound starting with "g", a final sound ending with "uo" and a tone indicated by a tone mark on a vowel (= aeiouü), in this example "ó".

Table 1: Initial sound

Chinese letter
(Sound)
Example word
b
(buo)
p
(puo)
m
(muo)
f
(fuo)
      __uo
d
(duh)
t
(tuh)
n
(nuh)
l
(luh)
g
(guh)
k
(kuh)
h
(ghuh)
__uh
j
(gee)
gee whiz
q
(chee)
cheek
x
(shee)
she
        __ee
z
(dzuh)
c
(tsuh)
s
(shuh)
        _uh
zh
(jir)
germ
ch
(chir)
church
sh
(shir)
shirt
        _ir
r
(err)
bigger
             
w
(wuh)
             
y
(yii)
             


Table 2: Final sound

Chinese vowels
(Sound)
Example word
a
a
(ah)
father
ai
(i)
eye
ao
(ow)
cow
an
(ahn)
ang
(ahng)
angst
         
e
e
(uh)
ei
(ay)
hay
en
(un)
taken
eng
(ung)
er
(ar)
         
i
i
(ee)
ia
(ya)
yard
iao
(yaow)
ie
(yeh)
yet
iu
(yo)
ian
(yan)
yen
iang
(yahng)
in
(een)
ing
(eeng)
iong
(yoong)
o
o
(aw)
so
ong
(oong)
ou
(oh)
so
             
u
u
(oe)
ua
(wa)
uo
(waw)
ui
(way)
uai
(why)
uan
(wan)
un
(one)
uang
(wahng)
ueng
(wung)
 
ü
ü
(yew)
üe
(yweh)
üan
(ywan)
ün
(yewn)
           


Table 3: Tone marks
Tone number Tone Sound Vowels with tone marks:   ̄   ́   ̌   ̀
1 First tone High and long ā ē ī ō ū ǖ
2 Second tone Rising and long á é í ó ú ǘ
3 Third tone Falling and then rising ǎ ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ
4 Fourth tone Falling and short à è ì ò ù ǜ
  Neutral tone   No tone mark on a vowel
Note: The two dots on the ü do not have to do with the tone.