If you’re reading this article on how to learn Chinese Pinyin, chances are you’ve just started learning Chinese. And chances are that Pinyin makes your brain hurt. We list some essential Chinese Pinyin tips here — for you’re still there thinking about the position of the tongue that the teacher told you, aspirated or not aspirated, or if you are struggling with the Chinese tones ā á ǎ à.
Pinyin is an essential tool to learn oral Chinese communication. Learning Pinyin will not just help you communicate with others before you learn Chinese characters — it’ll also help the learning of Chinese characters themselves.
The pinyin pronunciation of a Chinese character/syllable (brown) is actually made up of three components:
- Initial (Pink)
- Final (Blue)
- Tone (Green)
A meaningful set of roman letters for a character (or one Pinyin syllable ) contains the following three parts:
- Initial, which usually is a consonant from roman letters. There are in total 23 initials
- Final, which is the following part after the initial, and it contains at least one vowel
- Tone, the little symbol above. There are in total four tones in the Chinese language
An example of a Chinese character and the corresponding Chinese character: zhōng 中
The complete 23 initials for Chinese alphabet (Pinyin):
The complete 24 finals for Chinese alphabet (Pinyin):
The 4 tones for Chinese alphabet (Pinyin):
How to learn Pinyin
Chinese has 21 initials and 36 finals, so only one method of learning may not be the most effective. So we can try the following methods:
Mother tongue transfer method
Students in European or English-speaking countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, will have a sense of familiarity when they see Hanyu Pinyin, because most of the letters are similar to English, even if the pronunciation is not exactly the same, they can pronounce 80% of them correctly. Therefore, the first way to learn Chinese Pinyin is to use your native language to learn.
- zh – similar to ‘j’ in the English ‘jam’
- ch – similar to ‘ch’ in the English ‘cheap’
- sh – similar to ‘sh’ in the English ‘ship’
- z – same as ‘ds’ in the English ‘cards’
- c – similar to ‘ts’ in the English ‘boots’
- s – similar to ‘s’ in the English ‘cars’
- ai – similar to the English ‘eye’
- ei – similar to ‘ei’ in the English ‘weigh’
- ao – similar to ‘au’ in the English ‘how’
- ou – similar to ‘ou’ in the English ‘dough’
This is a bit like voice translation, using similarly pronounced letters or words to help you learn and master the pronunciation.
Just like when Chinese people are learning English, they often label ‘Thank you’ as ‘三克油’, which means ‘three grams of oil’. The advantage of mother-tongue transfer so is that you can reduce your fear of difficulties and build confidence at the same time. But the disadvantage is that such pronunciation is not standard after all, and the Roman letters of Chinese and English are not in a one-to-one correspondence, so simple spelling cannot help us accurately grasp the Chinese pinyin, but can only play an auxiliary role. It cannot actually solve the problem entirely.
When we aren’t familiar with a new language yet, our ears lack sensitivity to catch the exact sounds: z and c may sound the same, as do zhi and chi. So if the Chinese teacher pronounces any Chinese Pinyin, you may feel that it all sounds the same. So you can try the second method. Use tongue-position diagrams to learn to find the position of the tongue.
Find a Chinese teacher
No matter how advanced technology is, language input and output and direct feedback cannot be replaced. No matter how smart a computer is, it will not be tailored for you. So when you start to learn phonetics, it is recommended to find a professional Chinese tutor, use his or her trained ears to listen to your pronunciation problems, and provide an effective method to help you. This can help you build a good voice foundation, and at the same time clear the voice barriers for your future Chinese learning.
Of course, learning is not only about preview and study, review after class is equally important. Recommend a website to learn and practice Chinese Pinyin online, namely this one from the University of Texas. It has Chinese characters and has two sections for learning and practice. The learning section uses the Chinese zodiac as the page, including initials, finals, and tone sandhi rules. Each animal contains several initials and vowels.
The exercise is divided into five parts: If you are a beginner student or don’t have too much Chinese vocabulary, it is recommended that you do the first and fifth exercises.
The first exercise is the tones. Click on the pinyin on the left, there will be pronunciation, write the correct tone according to the pronunciation, and there will be a score after submission. This can test your mastery of Chinese tones.
In the fifth exercise, you can select the correct pronunciation based on pinyin, which can train your listening and improve the overall recognition and reading level of consonants and syllables.
All in all, Hanyu Pinyin is an indispensable foundation for learning Chinese. Studying alone can be boring, and you do not know if it is right or wrong. If you want to meet more friends like you or learn Chinese more systematically, then come to GoEast Mandarin to join us!