Archive for August, 2007

Chinese Pronunciation 101: Part 1

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

“I wanted to learn Chinese, but it is just too hard” is often what I heard when I started to teach beginners. The following is for you guys.

It is not that difficult to speak Chinese if you know the basics. Here are some tips.

1. Consonants (initials)
There are 24 consonants but only 23 initials as shown in Chinese Pinyin system which are pronounced similar to English language.

They are:

b, p, m, f: (Bi)labial. This group of sounds were pronounced using your lips.
d, t, n, ng, l: Coronal/lateral
g, k, h velar
j, q, x,

z, c, s, sibilant

zh, ch, sh, r,

y, w
Note, ng can not be used at beginning of a syllabus, unless it’s used to transcribe a Chinese dialect.

Remember y, w are not really separate sounds. They are “designed’ for Pinyin. BTW, it’s bad to have a group of linguists to design a system, it’s worse to have a committee to come up with a writing system, and it’s a disaster to design a system to “revoluntionalize” Chinese writing by a committee of linguists. Pinyin may be not that bad, but the simplified Chinese character reforms, especially the second one, are disastrous to Chinese culture and Chinese learning. Chinese characters are not easy, let alone to learn two systems, both simplified and traditional! We’ll cover this later in my blog.
Learn Chinese pronunciation of Consonants

b as in bay
p as in pay
m as in may
f as in faith
d as in day
t as in th in Thailand
n as in nay
l as in lay
g as in gay
k as in kate
ng as in say
h as in hay
j as in jade
q like “ch” in cheap
x like a sound between the “s” in see and the “sh” in she
zh like “dg” in sludge (like, not is)
ch like in children
sh like in shake
r as in ray
z like “ds” in woods
c like “ts” in cats
s as in son
y as in Yao Ming
w as in we

Tip: Pronounce pinyin “x” halfway between English “s” and “sh”. Pronounce pinyin “q” halfway between English “ch” and “ts”. Pronounce pinyin “c” (when immediately followed by a vowel) as English “ts”. Say “zhi”, “chi”, “shi” and “ri” as “jrrr”, “chrrr”, “shrrr”, “rrr”, respectively . Note those “r” sounds just buzzed, not really rolled. Say “zi”, “ci”, and “si”, as “dzzz” , “tsszz” and “sszz”, respectively. This is not a precise description, buy you get the point..



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