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Chinese Pronunciation for English Speakers

Do you have trouble pronouncing foreign names? The Chinese ones are the hardest. They're always something hard with lots of Q's and X's in them. Fear not. Here is a simple pronunciation guide for Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken in Mainland China and in Taiwan.

Chances are, if you're trying to pronounce a name in Cantonese (the other major dialect that is mainly used in Hong Kong), you won't have much trouble.

The type of phoenetic writing used here is called PinYin, or sometimes HanYu PinYin. HanYu is the national language of China, which was standardized in order to facilitate communication across the wide distances that the country spanned. The government felt that a standardized language would make it's job of centralized ruling much easier. While you'll still find areas that speak other dialects, like Hokkien and Cantonese, the standard language in China is HanYu.

PinYin is the most common form of anglicized Chinese writing. In the past, there were a few others, like Yale. This explains differences between spellings of common Chinese names, like Peking and Beijing. "Beijing" is the pinyin spelling of the word. Like most Chinese words, it is a composite, made up of bei (north) and jing (capital).

Now on with the pronunciation guide.


There are only four sets of sounds that you need to learn.

  • Vowels are pretty easy.
  • Dipthongs follow from vowels.
  • Normal consonants are just like English.
  • Special consonants are what make you sound silly if you haven't read here.

Vowels

Vowel sounds are very similar to Spanish pronunciation rules, using soft sounds.
 

Vowel
Sound
Chinese Word
Sound
Meaning
a
"ah"
ba ba
"bah bah"
father
e
"uh"
ge ge
"guh guh"
older brother
i
"ee"
di di
"dee dee"
younger brother
o
"oah"
wo
"woah"
me
u
"ooh"
bu
"boo"
no
 



 

Dipthongs

Dipthongs follow directly from normal vowel sounds.
They are just two or three vowel sounds all mashed together.

English-speakers have a tendency to say these backwards.
For example, qiu is pronounced "choo" and not "kwee".
Similarly, guo is "gwoah" and not "gow".
 

Dipthong
Sound
Chinese Word
Sound
Meaning
ai
"I"
tai tai
"tie-tie"
wife
ao
"ow"
hao
"how"
good
ei
"A"
mei mei
"may-may"
younger sister
ou
"oh"
you
"yo"
to have
ia
"yah"
jia
"jyah"
home
iao
"yow"
jiao
"jyow"
to teach
ie
"yay"
jie jie
"jyeh-jyeh"
older sister
iu
"you"
liu
"lyoo"
six
ua
"wa"
hua
"hwah"
flower
uo
"woah"
guo
"gwoah"
country
uai
"why"
kuai
"kwy"
quick
ui
"we"
shui
"shwee"
water
 


Normal Consonants

Normal consonants are pronounced just like they are in English.
 

Consonant
Sound
Chinese Word
Sound
Meaning
b
"b"
ba ba
"bah-bah"
father
p
"p"
peng you
"pung-yo"
friend
m
"m"
ma ma
"mah-mah"
mother
f
"f"
fei ji
"fay-jee"
airplane
d
"d"
dian hua
"deean-hwa"
telephone
t
"t"
tian
"tyan"
day
n
"n"
ni
"nee"
you
l
"l"
liu
"lyoo"
six
s
"s"
san
"sahn"
three
ch
"ch"
cha
"chah"
tea
sh
"sh"
shu
"shoo"
book
r
"r"
ren
"ren"
man
j
"j"
jie jie
"jyeh-jyeh"
older sister
g
"g"
ge ge
"guh guh"
older brother
k
"k"
ka fei
"kah-fay"
coffee
h
"h"
hua
"hwah"
flower
 
 



 

Special Consonants

There are only five special consonant sounds, but they are very common.
Mastering these five will make you sound like a pro!
 

Consonant
Sound
Chinese Word
Sound
Meaning
c
"ts"
cuo
"tswoah"
mistake
q
"ch"
qiu
"choo"
autumn
x
"sh"
xin
"shin"
new
z
"dz"
zao
"dzow"
early, morning
zh
"j"
zhong
"jong"
middle


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