Chinese Alphabet, known as ‘Pīnyīn’ in Chinese, is the very essential step to start Chinese learning. Although it’s as same as English letters in writing, the pronunciation between them are quite different. This article lists the tips to help you learn it!
When we start to learn a language, we usually begin with an alphabet. However, given that Chinese is written in characters, which are pictographs and not individual letters that make up words, pinyin is the system that transposes characters into words.
One of the main differences between Chinese and English, for example, is that Chinese is a tonal language, with “initials,” “finals” and “tones” that form words. In the word ”pīnyīn,” for example, pīn begin with the initial “p,” and the final “in” and uses the level tone “-.”
There are 23 initials, 24 finals and 5 tones in Chinese. An initial followed by a final can make up a complete syllable – spoken with a tone. For most Mandarin learners, the challenge is learning the different tones to correctly pronounce the word.
Now, let’s study them respectively.
Initials are the consonants used before finals. From now on, you need to erase the memory of how to pronounce these letters in English and carefully listen to the recording; repeat again and again and soon you’ll find it’s as easy as the ABC Song.
b p m f
d t n l
g k h
j q x
zh ch sh
z c s
How is it? Is it difficult for you? Skills come with practice!
Here are the phonetic symbols for all the initials to help you pronounce more accurately.
|b [bo]||j [ji]|
|p [po]||q [qi]|
|m [mo]||x [xi]|
|f [fo]||zh [zhi]|
|d [de]||ch [chi]|
|t [te]||sh [shi]|
|n [ne]||r [ri]|
|l [le]||z [zi]|
|g [ge]||c [ci]|
|k [ke]||s [si]|
|h [he]||y [yi]|
Finalswill be a little bit difficult compare to initials. Most of the finals consist of more than one letter.
|Simple Finals||Compound Finals|
|a||an, ang, ai, ao|
|e||en, eng, ei, er|
|i||ia, iao, ie, iou(iu), ian, in, iang, ing, iong|
|u||ua, uo, uai, uei(ui), uan, uen(un), uang, ueng|
|ü||üe, üan, ün|
Tones give Mandarin a very distinctive quality, but it could also be a source of miscommunication if one pronounces them incorrectly. From my experience in talking with foreigners in Chinese, most haven’t paid enough attention to the tones, thus sometimes I can’t understand what they say.
Mandarin is said have 4 main tones and 1 neutral tone. Can you try to speak the following four tones on your own?
Here is the video for you to learn tones with Hanbridge teacher Lilian.
After understanding the pronunciation of the tones, here comes another question: how to mark the tones? Most of time we place the tone mark above the first initial. However, whenever there are two initials that start with “i,” “u,”or “ü,”’ we mark the tone above the second initial.
你学会了吗？ Nǐ xué huì le ma？ Have you got it? If you have any questions, contact us and let our teachers help you now!