Posts tagged: pinyin

Nov 16 2010

Mandarin Chinese Finals/Vowels – Pinyin

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.

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 !

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