Mandarin Chinese pronunciation guide

A useful guide to get started learning Mandarin Chinese

languages
China
learning
guide
  1. Home
  2. Google Slide
  3. Mandarin Chinese pronunciation guide

Mandarin Chinese pronunciation guide

A useful guide to get started learning Mandarin Chinese

languages, China, learning, guide

Mandarin Chinese

detailed pronunciation guide

Why learn Mandarin Chinese pronunciation?

As of 2020, 1.120 billion people speak Mandarin Chinese around the world, 918 million of which are native speakers (that’s a lot!)

Chinese media (Cdramas, Cnovels, video games, ...) have been getting very popular lately, but many international fans don’t know how to pronounce the names and words that appear in them correctly.

There is a lot of prejudice against Chinese people, especially in western countries, and the language is often mocked and not taken seriously. Please do your part in educating yourself and learning at least some basics of its proper pronunciation.

Content

Common mistakes 1 (slide 5)

Basic information (slide 6)

Syllables (slide 7)

Consonants (slides 8 - 14)

Vowels (slides 15 - 21)

Tones (slide 22)

Common mistakes 2 (slide 23)

Common mistakes 3 (slide 24)

Quick exercises (slides 25 - 26)

Further resources (slide 27)

Feel free to skip around. You don’t need to read everything in order.

I highly recommend bookmarking this presentation and using it for reference whenever needed!

This presentation includes audio.

In desktop browsers: hover over the gray speaker icons and click the play button

In mobile browsers: just tap the gray speaker icons to play the audio

Common mistakes 1

Please don’t say it like this Try saying it like this

Zhong guo

Dian hua

Da Qing

Yang Mi

Most mistakes happen when people just don’t know what sounds the letters represent. If you’re one of those people, this guide will help you figure it out!

Basic information

Chinese is written with Chinese characters (汉字, hànzì)

The most common romanization method (writing Mandarin Chinese with the Latin alphabet) is 拼音 (pīnyīn)

Each Chinese character is read as just one syllable!

Remember the dian hua example? A big reason why the wrong version sounds wrong is because it was pronounced as 4 syllables (dee-ahn-hoo-ah) instead of 2 (dian-hua)

Syllables

Syllables in Mandarin Chinese are usually less complex than in English, but they sometimes use combinations of sounds that feel unfamiliar to English speakers

Examples of English syllables

Examples of Mandarin Chinese syllables

it - 2 sounds

snow - 4 sounds

spring - 5 sounds

strength - 7 sounds

它 (tā) - 2 sounds

雪 (xuě) - 3 sounds

泉 (quán) - 4 sounds

力 (lì) - 2 sounds

Consonants

The following slides (9 - 13) contain all consonants in Mandarin Chinese and their pronunciation

Consonant (pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

m

/m/

mother

马 (mǎ) - horse

n

/n/

night

女 (nǚ) - woman

ng

/ŋ/

among

星 (xīng) - star

l

/l/

light

驴 (lǘ) - donkey

r

/ɻ~ʐ/

round

人 (rén) - person

Consonants 1

Consonant (pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

f

/f/

field

服 (fú) - clothes

h

/h~x/

hard

后 (hòu) - back

s

/s/

sea

撒 (sā) - release

c

/ts/

菜 (cài) - dish

z

/d̥z̥/

再 (zài) - again

Consonants 2

Consonant (pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

x

/ɕ/

she

星 (xīng) - star

q

/tɕ/

cheap

去 (qù) - go

j

/d̥ʑ̥/

jeep

句 (jù) - sentence

sh

/ʂ/

shard

十 (shí) - ten

ch

/tʂ/

char

车 (chē) - car

zh

/d̥ʐ̥/

jar

遮 (zhē) - conceal

Consonants 3

Consonant (pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

p

/p/

pear

跑 (pǎo) - run

b

/b̥/

bear

宝 (bǎo) - treasure

t

/t/

time

听 (tīng) - listen

d

/d̥/

dime

玎 (dīng) - jingle

k

/k/

cold

看 (kàn) - look

g

/g̥/

gold

干 (gàn) - tree trunk

Consonants 4

Consonant (pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

w

/w/

weather

蛙 (wā) - frog

y

/j/

yell

夜 (yè) - night

Consonants 5

Note:

wu has no audible w sound, it’s just pronounced /u/

yi has no audible y sound, it’s just pronounced /i/

Consonant combinations

A few examples of consonant combinations that might feel unfamiliar to English speakers:

电 (diàn) — /d̥jɛn/ please don’t say “dee-ann”

花 (huā) — /xwa/ please don’t say “hoo-wa”

全 (quán) — /tɕɥɛn/ please don’t say “chu-ann”

Remember that each Chinese character should only be pronounced as a single syllable!

If you still find this difficult, you can try clapping once and saying the whole syllable quickly on the clap.

Vowels

The following slides (16 - 20) contain a list of vowels and vowel combinations

A lot of Chinese vowels do not appear in English, so it’s best to learn them by listening to native speakers.

Vowel symbols can have different pronunciations depending on the word they’re in.

Vowel

(pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

a

/a/

/ɛ/

yell~cat

男 (nán) - man

眼 (yǎn) - eye

o

/o/

红 (hóng) - red

e

/ɛ/

/ə/

yell

the

夜 (yè) - night

生 (shēng) - life

i

/i/

teach

玎 (dīng) - jingle

u

/u/

/y/

cool

哭 (kū) - cry

去 (qù) - go

ü

/y/

女 (nǚ) - woman

Basic vowels

Vowels

(pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

ai

/ai/

idol

来 (lái) - come

ei

/ɛi/

eight

美 (měi) - beautiful

ao

/ao/

out

猫 (māo) - cat

ou

/ou/

home

狗 (gǒu) - dog

uo

/oa/

落 (luò) - fall

Vowel combinations 1

Vowels

(pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

iu

/jou/

yoghurt

牛 (niú) - cow

ue

/jyɛ/

月 (yuè) - moon

ia

ia (before n)

/ja/

/jɛ/

yellow

想 (xiǎng) - want

先 (xiān) - first

ie

/jɛ/

yellow

蝶 (dié) - butterfly

Vowel combinations 2

Note:

the ending -ian is always pronounced like “yen”!

examples: 先 (xiān),见 (jiàn),恋 (liàn),年 (nián),前 (qián),电 (diàn)

Vowels

(pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

ui

/wɛi/

weight

灰 (huī) - ash

uai

/wai/

white

怪 (guài) - strange

iao

/jao/

鸟 (niǎo) - bird

Vowel combinations 3

Vowel

(pinyin)

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

English equivalent (approximation)

Example word

i (before rhotic consonant)

/ɹ̩/

/ɻ̩/

紫 (zǐ) - purple

指 (zhǐ) - finger

e (in isolation)

/ɤə/

饿 (è) - hungry

Special vowels

More about e

The letter e can stand for a lot of different vowels in pinyin. Here’s an overview:

Phonetic symbol (IPA)

Example words

/ə/

剩 (shèng),焿 (gēng),深 (shēn),跟 (gēn),温 (wēn)

/ə~ɤə/

歌 (gē),热 (rè),遮 (zhē),乐 (lè),河 (hé)

/ɤə/

饿 (è),额 (é)

/ɛ/

夜 (yè),月 (yuè),却 (què),谢 (xiè)

/o~ə/

风 (fēng),梦 (mèng)

Tones

Mandarin Chinese has 4 tones + a neutral tone

In pinyin, tones are indicated by diacritics on top of the vowels

1

(high)

2

(rising)

3

(dipping)

4

(falling)

neutral

mom

hemp

horse

grasshopper

ma

question particle

Common mistakes 2

A lot of people find these syllables especially difficult to pronounce.

Try to read them out loud, then listen to the audio and see if you pronounced them correctly.

Xiao

小 (xiǎo),笑 (xiào),削 (xiāo)

Xuan

选 (xuǎn),玄 (xuán),谖 (xuān)

Yuan

远 (yuǎn),元 (yuán),愿 (yuàn)

Cheng

骋 (chěng),城 (chéng),撑 (chēng)

Qiu

秋 (qiū),求 (qiú),糗 (qiǔ)

Xue

雪 (xuě),学 (xué),薛 (xuē)

Common mistakes 3

A lot of people might find it difficult to differentiate these syllable pairs.

Listen closely to get a feeling for the differences.

Wan 碗 (wǎn)

Wen 吻 (wěn)

Chang 尝 (cháng)

Cheng 城 (chéng)

Zhang 帐 (zhàng)

Jiang 酱 (jiàng)

Shao 哨 (shào)

Xiao 笑 (xiào)

Xi 洗 (xǐ)

Shi 使 (shǐ)

She 舍 (shě)

Quick exercises 1

Try reading these sentences out loud at a comfortable pace, then listen to the audio to check if you read them correctly.

他喜欢花。

tā xǐ huan huā.

He likes flowers.

你吃饭了吗?

nǐ chī fàn le ma?

Have you eaten?

我无法区分青蛙

和蟾蜍。

wǒ wú fǎ qū fēn qīng wā

hé chán chú.

I can't tell frogs

and toads apart.

Quick exercises 2

Now try reading some names!

孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ)

551 - 479 BC, philosopher and politician, known in English as Confucius

武則天 (Wǔ Zétiān)

624 - 705, Empress of China

孟浩然 (Mèng Hàorán)

689 - 740, poet

顾闳中 (Gù Hóngzhōng)

937 - 975, painter

袁显臣 (Yuán Xiǎnchén)

Human rights activist

葛剑雄 (Gě Jiànxióng)

Historian

肖战 (Xiāo Zhàn)

Actor and singer

��美岐 (Mèng Měiqí)

Chinese member of Kpop group WJSN

Some names from ancient history:

Some contemporary names:

Further resources

Recommended dictionary: MDBG Chinese dictionary

Text-to-speech service used: TTSMP3.com

Bella Ping Music Channel: a great way to discover and listen to different kinds of Chinese pop music

Some notes

/b̥, d̥, g̥/ and /p, t, k/ are normally transcribed as /p, t, k/ and /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/, but I decided to use the former as it tends to be easier to understand for English speakers

Thank you for using this guide!

Made by June (@shiuwudu on Twitter)

Mandarin Chinese pronunciation guide
Info
Tags Languages, China, Learning, Guide
Type Google Slide
Published 03/10/2021, 23:14:01

Resources

Coronavirus: A Glossary of Terms to Help You Understand the Crisis
FFXIV - gobbiespeak spreadlist for uplander learnytimes - by @roefizzlebeef
Spanish Campaign Glossary
English Class Teaching Materials - A1 Beginners
Victorian Slang
Language Links