Here are the “finals” also known as the “consonants” of the Mandarin language.
Click the play button to hear the finals
The vowels or consonants are the endings of each Mandarin Syllabel. They normally have an initial or consonant at the beginning, although there are a few exceptions to the rule. For example the finals : i, ia, iao, ie, iou, ian, in, iang, ing, iong are actual words that do not have an initial or consonant. However in actual pinyin texts they don’t appear in their original final form but a “y” is added at the beginning. So you see those words written as : yi, ya, yao, ye, you, yan, yin, yang, ying, yong. For most of the words the “i” is simply replaced with a “y”. The pronunciation is the same. For the finals : ü, üe, üan, ün a “y” is added to the beginning and the two dots above the u are removed so you only see : yu, yue, yuan, yun. You are expected to remember that a “y” in front of a “u” means the “ü” pronunciation. The same goes for an “x”, “j” and “q” in front of a “u”. Any word that begins with “xu”, “ju” or “qu” the “u” there is pronounced as “ü”.
A similar phenomenon exsits for words beginning with “w”. The finals : u, ua, uo, uai, uei, uan, uen, uang, ueng become wu, wa, wo, wai, wei, wan, wen, wang, weng respectively. Something else to note also is words like “dui” and “tui” are actually “duei” and “tuei”. For some reason “uei” changes into “ui” for certain words. I don’t know why but you will get used to it after practicing enough, don’t worry.
The sounds here are similar to many in the english language and can easily be mastered by most english speakers. Perhaps the hardest of sounds is the “ü” because we don’t have this sound in English. French and German however have this sound so for some people it may be easy to master because of their background in other languages.
It wasn’t until after I had already figured out how to reproduce this sound that I discovered and easy way to do so in a book. You simply say the letter “e” and then move your lips and only your lips to produce the sound of “o” (ie pucker your lips like a kiss). Don’t change anything inside your mouth i.e. the position of your tongue. If you say “e” inside your mouth but your lips move to the “o” position you correctly make the “ü” sound.
The final “uen” which is written in pinyin normally as “un” as in : dun, lun, tun, zun, cun, sun etc actually sounds a little but like 2 syllabels. It’s subtle but try to hear and recreate it. “dun” sounds more like “duwen” but very quickly.
Try your best to hear all these subtle differences. Listen carefully to the sounds and try to recreate them as accurately as possible. This will lay an excellent foundation for your Mandarin for years to come. You can’t spend enough time on this initial pronunciation stage as there is nothing much left to learn after this (apart from tones) when it comes to pronunciation. The whole language is based on these basic building blocks. So learn them and learn them as well as you can. Don’t move on to the next stage until you have reached what you believe is your highest level of pronunciation. Some people have a bit of a gift when it comes to this stuff. If you are good at mimicing the accents of other people, perhaps even just to poke fun at them, then you may have a knack and ability to reach a high level of pronunciation in this and other languages.