Jan 27 2010

Mandarin Chinese Initials/Consonants – Pinyin

Here are the 21 “initials” also known as “consonants” of the Mandarin Chinese language.  These are the basic building blocks of this language and practicing the pronunciation cannot be over emphasized.  Writing the Chinese language using our Roman alphabet is known as “Pinyin”.

I recommend spending all of your time practicing these sounds until you are blue in the face.  If you get to eager and start trying to learn words before having a good pronunciation foundation you run the risk of ruining your chances of ever having good pronunciation because once you have a bad habit it’s very hard to get rid of.

Therefore I recommended attaining the highest level of pronunciation that you can before moving on and starting to learn actual words.  There aren’t that many phonetics in the Mandarin Language so it won’t take very long to master.

I like to think of these “initials” as letters of the Chinese alphabet.  I also like to think that every “word” has only 2 letters, an initial and a final.

		 Click the play button to hear the initials






















		 Click the play button to hear the initials

Now you will notice that each of the initials above have a letter in brackets beside them.  That is because it’s kind of difficult to say the initial without a final.  So the letters to the left of the brackets are the actual “initial” and inside the brackets are a “final” or “vowel”.

When listening to the above initials try to concentrate on the sound of the initial alone in order to grasp how to pronounce it.

Now the letters from “b” to “h” are pretty easy if you are a speaker of English.  The English sounds are pretty much the same in Chinese for those letters.

Outside of that is where it gets a little complicated.  The “j” isn’t so bad as it sounds pretty much like our “j” as in the word “jeep”.  However the “q” is nothing what you would expect and it’s hard to find an exact equivalent in English.  Its fairly close to “ch” as in when you say “cheep” but try to work hard to find the minor difference.   Some people like to think of it as a “tch” sound with the “t” being very subtle.  You will likely need face to face tutoring to get the exact right sound as it’s far too difficult to describe the differences with words.  The same goes for “x”.  It also is fairly close to our “sh” sound as in the word “she” but again that only gets you close to the actual sound.

Now we have the “zh” which is often compared to the “j” sound in the word “jug”.  You might think that the “j” initial and “zh” initial are the same as both are compared to the letter “j” in English, but they are not the same and you should work to find out the very subtle differences in their pronunciation.  Same goes for “ch”.  It’s similar to the “ch” in “churn” and “sh” is similar to the “sh” in “shirt”.  The “r” is also similar to our “r” but there is a difference and it’s quite difficult to explain in words.  So for someone just starting in Mandarin learning you can get quite close to the true pronunciation with just your English ability but work hard to hear and mimic the slight differences.

Finally we have “z”,”c” and “s”.  The “z” is more like a “dz” noise.  Or the “ds” as in “birds”.  The “c” is more like a “ts” as in “bits” but the only barely utter the “t” noise, the “t” shouldn’t be very strong.  The “s” is similar to ours so there’s not too much to say about that.

There you have it.  That’s almost have of the entire language right there.  After this you just need to master the finals and you can perfectly pronounce every single Chinese word with only about 60 phonetics.  I’m not aware of any other language that has a similar finite pronunciation range.

Of course there are the 4 tones (5 if you count the neutral one) but that’s for another day.  Just focus on one thing at a time so as not to overload your brain.  All the initials above are uttered in the first tone so when practicing them try to “sing” them the same way the speakers are using a high level unchanging tone.  You might think it sounds ridiculous but that’s Chinese !

2 Responses to “Mandarin Chinese Initials/Consonants – Pinyin”

  1. Charles Bradshaw says:

    Very good I would like to learn this way.

  2. MisterTrivia says:

    very cool rules of thumb. thanks.

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