学生Chinese for you The sound

The sounds of Chinese (The syllables)

Opening fact

Did you know that...
...there are only around 400 syllables in Chinese and most words are a combination of 2 or more of these syllables?

Lesson aims

After Lesson 1, you will:

  • be able to distinguish the main sounds of Mandarin Chinese;
  • be able to distinguish the tones of Mandarin Chinese;
  • be able to pronounce the syllables of Mandarin Chinese, written in hanyu pinyin.

The syllables

If someone asked you what Chinese sounds like, what would you say? In fact, many people would mention a certain “melodic” and “rhythmic” quality. That is because the sounds of Chinese are, in fact, arranged in small groups – namely, syllables. Unlike in the European languages, there is a rather small and limited number of possible syllables in Chinese – around 400. Each syllable consists of a “beginning” sound (called the initial) and a “final” sound (called, well, the final). Which means that if you know how to pronounce all the “initials” and the “finals”, you know how to pronounce pretty much all Chinese sounds – as simple as that!

One important thing to know is that a “syllable” does not equal “word”. Most words consist of two syllables, although there are also words that consist of one or more than two syllables.

In this course, words are often written using Latin letters. It’s a system called hanyu pinyin – it’s one of several ways to represent Chinese sounds using Latin alphabet. Pinyin is the official system in the PRC and is recognized internationally.

Here are the sounds of Chinese. Please note that given English equivalents are only approximate.

Not all initials can be combined with all finals. Here’s a table with all the possible syllables:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin_table

http://www.quickmandarin.com/chinesepinyintable/

Pronunciation

Initials

  1. b-, m-, f-, d-, n-, l-, s-, ch-, sh-

Don’t worry too much about these initials. They are pronounced more or less like their English equivalents.

  1. p-

Similar to the English “p”, but it’s aspirated – meaning that when saying this sound, you have to breathe out some air.

  1. t-

Similar to the English “t”, but aspirated.

  1. g-

Similar to English “g” in “god”.

  1. k-

Similar to English “k”, but aspirated.

  1. h-

Similar to “wh” in “who”.

Pronunciation

Finals

  1. -a

It always has the quality of “au” in “laugh” (but is a little more open), never “a” in “man”.

  1. -o

Similar to “o” in “more”.

  1. -e

Similar to “er” in “hers”.

  1. -ai

Similar to “i” in”like”.

  1. -ei

Similar to “a” in “make”.

  1. -ao

Similar to “ou” in “loud”.

  1. -ou

Similar to “oa” in “load”.

Pronunciation

Initials

  1. z-

Similar to “ds” in “kids”.

  1. c-

Similar to “ts” in “kits”.

  1. zh-

Similar to “j” in “jug”.

  1. r-

It’s a combination of American “r” (as in “rug”) and “s” (as in “measure”).

  1. j-

Much like the English “j” in “jeep”, but much softer. Try saying the English “d” combined with an “s” and then “ee”. [A diagram would work well here, much like here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
commons/e/ea/Difficult_Sounds.GIF

  1. q-

Similar to “j”, but aspirated.

  1. x-

Similar to “s” in “see”.

Pronunciation

Finals

  1. -i

Similar to “ee” in “see”, except after z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, r: after those initials, to pronounce –i, simply say the initial and extend it – you’ll get the sound you need. Or, if you are familiar with Russian, it’s close to the sound “ы”.

Pronunciation

Finals

  1. -an

More or less like “un” in “fun”, but the vowel sound is longer.

  1. -en

Similar to “en” in “men”.

  1. -ang

More or less like “ung” in “stung”, but the vowel sound is longer.

  1. -eng

Join the Chinese “e” sound with the “ng” in “thing”.

  1. -ong

A “oo” in “book” joined with “ng” in “thing”.

  1. -u

Similar to “oo” in “book”.

  1. -ua

Similar to “wha” in “what”.

  1. -uo

An “oo” sound in “book” followed by an “o” sound in “log”.

  1. -uai

Similar to “why”.

  1. -ui

Similar to “way”.

  1. -uan

Similar to “one”.

  1. -uang

Similar to “one”, but with a “ng” sound at the end.

  1. -un

A “oo” in “book” followed by an ”n”.

By the way, –u, -ua, -uo, -uai, -uei, -uan, -uang can also be syllables on their own. Then they are written with a “w” at the beginning: “wu”, “wa”, “wo”, “wai”, “wei”, “wan”, “wang”. The pronunciation is the same.

We also have two more syllables: “wen” which is pronounced as “when”, and “weng”, which is simply the “-eng” final with a “u” sound at the beginning.

Pronunciation

Finals

  1. -ia

Similar to “ya” in “yahoo”.

  1. -ie

Similar to “yeah”.

  1. -iao

The “ao” final with the “y” sound in front.

  1. -iu

Similar to “yo”.

  1. -ian

Similar to “yen”.

  1. -iang

The “ang” final with the “y” sound in front”.

  1. -in

Similar to “in” in “pin”.

  1. -ing

You know the word “ping pong”? Then you got the sound!

  1. -iong

The “ong” final with the “y” sound in front.

Try putting your lips in the position of Chinese “u” and your tongue in the position of Chinese “i”. Or, remember the French “ü” sound – it’s similar.

  1. -üe

The “ü” sound followed by a “e” sound.

  1. -üan

The “ü” sound followed by “en”.

  1. -ün

The “ü” sound followed by a soft “n”.

-i, -ia, -ie, -iao, -iu, -ian, -iang, -in, -ing, -iong, -ü, -üe, -üan, -ün can also go as stand-alone syllables. They are then written with a “y” at the beginning, namely: “yi”, “ya”, “ye”, “yao”, “you”, “yan”, “yang”, “yin”, “ying”, “yong”, “yu”, “yue”, yuan”, “yun”.

Evaluate and comment this lesson

average evaluation for this lesson: 7.7

Latest comments

  • levente schepisi
    10.07.2017 11:35
    Un buon punto di inizio!
  • Paolo Vittorio FRIGERIO
    12.06.2017 17:21
    Buon inizio, vediamo come continua
  • Edson Monteiro
    18.05.2017 06:28
    Muito obrigado, Valeu mesmo
  • shabbir lone
    01.04.2017 12:29
    ok
  • Asif Muhammad
    06.03.2017 06:10
    Nice but have to put audio also
  • Ramadan Shaban
    11.02.2017 05:19
    Grazie
  • Ramadan Shaban
    11.02.2017 05:18
    Grazie
  • Aleksandra Kmin
    26.01.2017 02:12
    trudne ale uczę się dalej
  • GIOVANNI MEGLIOLI
    24.01.2017 08:16
    Grazie
  • Châu Tân
    11.01.2017 09:55
    Thanks so much
  • richard asiku
    19.12.2016 04:11
    Thanks
  • richard asiku
    19.12.2016 04:02
    Thanks
  • Светослав Петков
    18.12.2016 22:44
    Също като на Български
  • NANA GVASALIA
    17.12.2016 16:20
    perfect. thanks
  • Mendall Rogers
    23.10.2016 14:55
    GREAT! Thank you!
  • Sting Schmalz
    19.10.2016 17:26
    ist ok
  • Simone Stoppa
    19.10.2016 16:33
    Auguri a tutti XD !
  • Pietro Luigi Riillo
    29.06.2016 13:46
    Si può cominciare...
  • Valentina Boarini
    11.06.2016 12:25
    Veramente molto utile! Finalmente una base da cui partire per imparare questa bella sfida linguistica.
  • francesco prisco
    27.05.2016 00:38
    buon inizio!! :)
  • francesco prisco
    27.05.2016 00:21
    buon inizio!! :)
  • Alexandru Popescu
    15.04.2016 21:37
    Foarte bine!
  • Alexandru Popescu
    15.04.2016 16:32
    Pronunțare clara, plăcută, distincta.
  • Maria-Magdalena Doichita
    09.04.2016 18:23
    Foarte instructiv!
  • Dennis Ritter
    31.03.2016 13:39
    Es könnten ein paar mehr Übungen zu den Tönen sein, allerdings gibt es dazu bei der BBC ein Spiel, das einen etwas größeren Umfang bietet http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/chinese/games/tones.shtml

    Aber gerade die ersten beiden Seiten dieser Einheit sind klasse! Insbesondere der Verweis auf die schwierigen Töne bei Wikipedia!
  • Paweł P.
    01.03.2016 17:01
    Nawet nie jest takie trudne :)
  • sylwia michalska
    08.12.2015 14:54
    to jest jak polska wymowa jedynie te u z kropkami u gory to niemieckie u umlaut
  • erika vergerio
    20.10.2015 21:59
    finalmente ho capito i toni!!
  • matteo cherubini
    13.09.2015 19:57
    Perfetta molto chiara!
  • Raphaela Miranda
    11.09.2015 22:50
    Lição ótima e de fácil entendimento! Parabéns pelo bom trabalho.

    P.S: Algumas tabelas de fonemas estão sem o áudio
  • sviriniuc tatiana
    03.08.2015 11:38
    la inceput e binisor
  • maria paola ricci
    31.07.2015 15:04
    La sezione è ben spiegata e piuttosto chiara.
  • giovanna bedino
    24.04.2015 16:12
    La parte più complicata è individuare il tono, non è spiegato bene nella pronuncia, comunque è interessante, anche se no semplice. Grazie!!
  • tomasz Pawłowski
    05.04.2015 16:24
    Łatwe
  • Mila Papucci
    17.03.2015 23:06
    alcune spiegazioni sui suoni non corrispondono molto alla pronuncia parlata
  • giovanni taormina
    13.03.2015 17:20
    Pura intuizione
  • giovanni taormina
    13.03.2015 17:17
    FACILE DA CAPIRE
  • Enrico Rossini
    13.03.2015 17:00
    pratico e preciso
  • Agnieszka Mazur
    11.03.2015 12:22
    Inspiracja motywacja jest! szukalam tak dobrego narzedzia! od podstaw! rewelacja!
    dziekuje chinese4u! 1 lekcja - super!
  • Андреа Пандулис
    30.12.2014 22:19
    Поздравления за чудесното начинание!
  • Davide Montorsi
    27.11.2014 12:13
    Semplice da seguire ma alcuni tasti per la riproduzione dei suoni non funzionano, soprattutto nella pronuncia delle finali.
  • Rebekah Hellwig
    05.11.2014 04:56
    For the most part, this lesson was very inspiring. Although I like to study from a notebook, and some of the pronunciation examples were very unclear and hard to say correctly without a listening example. Like take for instance the example of the syllable un-. You said that the pronunciation of this was like the oo in book followed by and n, when in reality it would better be described as the oo from good followed by an n.
  • mahima jain
    01.11.2014 04:44
    Hey im not able to hear sounds..can anyone help me.
  • Květuše Belanová
    03.10.2014 12:44
    Yo pienso qué bueno.
  • Piotr Filipowicz
    02.10.2014 21:47
    Szkoda, że tłumacz tłumaczył większość opisu znaków bez większego zrozumienia. Stąd duża ilość odniesień do języka angielskiego - który ze swojej natury jest mocno odmienny od chińskiego. O wiele bardziej dla polskiego studenta byłyby przydatne odniesienia do języka polskiego w którym duża ilość głosek chińskich występuje w sposób naturalny.
  • Aleksandra Kmin
    26.07.2014 20:00
    trudno jest powiedzieć głośno dzwięk na wdechu- ale próbuję
  • Ondřej Hrušák
    09.06.2014 00:04
    most accented characters are missing
  • Christian Pecher
    21.05.2014 22:00
    guess question 9 is wrong pronunciation or text, should be shi instead of chi, right??
  • paolo gorli
    13.05.2014 13:00
    occorre un buon orecchio musicale per le differenze! Molto esercizio!
  • Katarzyna Wnętrzak
    19.04.2014 15:32
    w przypadku złej odpowiedzi na teście, można pokazać dobra odpowiedź
  • Grace Sumidanu
    18.03.2014 21:32
    Bardzo pomocne i szczegółowe.
  • Leszek Ostrowski
    27.02.2014 22:13
    Bardzo pomocna jest wymowa dla początkującego.
  • Giuseppe Coco
    17.02.2014 12:41
    molto utile per iniziare
  • ari saarinen
    25.01.2014 18:59
    Some tones not included (samsung galaxy tablet)
  • Dragoslav Milekic
    24.01.2014 15:30
    I can't hear some sounds, are they removed or what? (Не могу чути неке звукове, јесу ли склоњени или шта се дешава?)
  • Andrea Ferrante
    04.12.2013 13:47
    Ultimato il test sarebbe utile conoscere la risposta esatta ed avere la possibilità di ascoltare tutti i suoni ed i toni. In ogni caso davvero utile.
  • silviu bordun
    26.11.2013 16:28
    Nu e atat de greu
  • Sarmite Eglite
    03.11.2013 11:32
    Very good for starters
  • Iwona Zych
    08.06.2013 22:53
    Bardzo miła lekcja. Jednk przydałyby się przykłady słów w języku chińskim, które obrazowałyby wyraźniej wymowę poszczególnych sylab.
  • Jolanta Frac
    29.05.2013 07:43
    Podoba mi sie,robie postepy.
  • Jolanta Frac
    29.05.2013 07:34
    Bardzo pomocne wiadomosci w poczatkowej fazie nauki.
  • Esztora Petőfi
    16.05.2013 12:59
    Jó a hangzás.
  • Vaclav Vrana
    14.05.2013 10:19
    Toto je velmi dobře prezentované.
  • Blanka Slavik
    14.05.2013 08:28
    Príjemné zvuky.
  • Donata Cazacu
    13.05.2013 08:37
    Este uşor de înţeles.
  • Андрей Врабчев
    10.05.2013 12:07
    Интересно и полезно
  • Marta Malinowska
    09.05.2013 14:00
    The information are presented in the interesting way.
  • Elżbieta Kowalczyk
    21.04.2013 09:28
    przydatne będą przykładowe krótkie wyrazy pokazujące wymowę danego dźwięku w przytoczonym słowie wyrazie
  • Joanna Domżalska
    08.02.2013 19:09
    some sound buttons dont work
  • Małgorzata Jendryczka
    30.12.2012 15:37
    There is no sound for "h"in the first table
  • Neo Celso
    01.12.2012 21:21
    I imagine myself as a child learning the basic sounds, getting the "feel" of the tones, from the mouth of my mother. I found the approach simple yet very effective. With more practice, repetitions, and imagination, I can profit a lot from this lesson. And, thanks a lot!

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