Phonetics

How to pronounce Chinese

As seen in the principles of the Chinese language, each Chinese character is pronounced with a single syllable. Each syllable may use one of the 4 tones, or none.

The 4 tones in Mandarin

  1. high level

  2. high rising

  3. low falling-rising

  4. high falling

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The classical method means training these tones on the syllable “ma”. 妈 麻 马 骂 (mā má mǎ mà)

These tones apply to a well-defined set of syllables.

The entirety of Chinese sounds is of course limited and well-defined. The combinations are less numerous than for a language like French.

Consonants

b p m f d t n l

g k h j q x

zh ch sh r

z c s

Vowels

ai ei ao ou

an en ang eng ong

i u ü a o e ê

A Chinese syllable is always made of either:

  • a single vowel

  • a consonant + a vowel

Exercise

The following words come from the level 1 of the HSK test. These are very common words you can use.

ài (to love)

zuò (to sit)

lěng (cold)

xiǎng (to think)

nián (year)

chī (to eat)

To practice better, use the HSK flashcards in pinyin. Try to pronounce correctly, then click on the pronunciation. You have direct and free access to more than 5000 Chinese words and their pronunciation.

Start with the the 150 most common words.

Your Chinese pronunciation will improve quickly. This is essential in order to start on a firm foundation, or to correct bad habits.

Continue with Chinese grammar.