About us
Contact
Free Trial
Subscribe
Login
Logout
Your Account
Feedback
Free Chinese
Grammar
Chinese
Radicals
Characters, Picture Stories,
Mnemonics, Vocabulary
600 Chinese
Video Lessons
Learning
Pinyin
How to Learn Chinese
with this Website
axxxx
oxxxx
e1xxx
e2xxx
erxxx
i1xxx
i2vxxx
uxxxx
üxxx
bxxxx
pxxxx
mxxxx
fxxxx
dxxxx
txxxx
nxxxx
ngxxx
lxxxx
gxxxx
kxxxx
hxxxx
jxxxx
qxxxx
xxxxx
zxxxx
cxxxx
sxxxx
zhxxx
chxxx
shxxx
rxxxx
aixxx
eixxx
aoxxx
ouxxx
iaxxx
iexxx
uaxxx
uoxxx
üexx
iaoxx
iuxxx
ueixx
uaixx
anxxx
enxxx
inxxx
ünxx
ianxx
uanxx
üanx
unxxx
angxx
engxx
ingxx
ongxx
iangx
uangx
iongx
wengx
© Lenaia GmbH 2007-2014

Learning How to Pronounce Chinese by Learning How to Pronounce Pinyin Letters

 

Two illustrations of cross-sections of the skull with mouth, lips, teeth and tongue. Two illustrations of lips from the side and from the front. One sees what lips, tongue and vocal cords are doing while pronouncing the Pinyin-letter j.

 

 

A word of a Western language is more or less written the way it is pronounced. Yet, a Chinese character doesn't tell you how it is pronounced. Therefore, the Chinese have created the pinyin, the Chinese phonetic alphabet. The pinyin alphabet consists of Western letters which are pronounced in a Chinese way. If you want to learn how to speak Chinese, you must know how the letters of the pinyin alphabet are pronounced. This is what this section of Lenaia.com is all about.

 

 

 

1. What You Find in the Pinyin (Pronunciation) Section of Lenaia.com

 

 

 

2. What You Find on One Page

 

Screenshot of the page for the Pinyin-letter j: Table with all the syllables which can contain the letter j and audio-buttons which enable learners to listen to every syllable in every tone. Six illustrations of the skull on which one can see what the tips, the teeth, the tongue and the vocal cords are doing when pronouncing the letter j. Examples of English letters, which are pronounced similarly to the Pinyin letters, and detailed explanations about the differences between the English and the Chinese sound. Navigation to all the letters in Pinyin.

 

 

Screenshot of the table with all the syllables which contain the Pinyin-letter j: Column with abbreviated Pinyin, column with pronounced Pinyin, column with international phonetics, column with audio-buttons which enable learners to listen to every syllable in every tone.

 

 

 

3. How to Learn with the Pinyin Section of Lenaia.com

  1. You open the links to the pages column by column, listen to the audio files, look at the graphic designs and read the explanations.
  2.  

  3. You imitate the sounds. You focus on your lips, your teeth, your tongue and your vocal cords, and you try to feel what the different parts of your mouth are doing. Maybe it is helpful for you to use a mirror and look at yourself while you practice.
  4.  

  5. You lean back, look at all the syllables in the blue navigation block and ask yourself what the differences are between the different pinyin letters. You compare similar sounds (e.g.: j and q) by listening closely to the audio files, looking at the graphic designs and by reading the explanations.

 

 

 

4. Chinese Pronunciation: Points of Articulation

This is the illustration of the head which we use in order to show you the position of the tongue and the lips when you pronounce a pinyin letter or a combination of pinyin letters.

 

 

Screenshot of a cross-section of the head on which one can see all the different points of articulation: Nasal cavity, upper gum, upper teeth, upper lip, lower lip, lower teeth, lower gum, hard palate, oral cavity, soft palate, root of the tongue, tip of the tongue, vocal cords, wind pipe. Explanations to symbols which are used.

 

 

 

5. Spelling of Pinyin Letters at the Beginning of a Syllable

 

Some pinyin letters are spelled differently when they stand at the beginning of a syllable. The Chinese do this in order to make clear where a new syllable starts.

 

I is written Y at the beginning of a syllable.

U is written W at the beginning of a syllable.

Ü is written Yü at the beginning of a syllable.

 

Example: If the phonetic word "pinyin" was written "pinin", one wouldn't know whether the writer meant "pi-nin" or "pin-in". By writing "pinyin" it becomes clear that the second syllable starts at the "i". So, the writer must have meant "pin-in" by writing "pin-yin".

 

Let us give you a survey in a simple table!

 

Written

Pronounced

yi

=

i

ya

=

ia

ye

=

ie

yao

=

iao

you

=

iou

yan

=

ian

yang

=

iang

yong

=

iong

yin

=

in

ying

=

ing

 

 

wu

=

u

wa

=

ua

wo

=

uo

wei

=

uei

wai

=

uai

wan

=

uan

wen

=

uen

wang

=

uang

weng

=

ueng

 

 

yu

=

ü

yue

=

üe

yuan

=

üan

yun

=

ün

 

 

 

6. Indication of the Beginning of a Syllable by a Single Quotation Mark

 

In other cases, the beginning of a syllable is marked by a single quotation mark.

 

piao

=

p-iao

pi'ao

=

pi-ao

fangai

=

fan-gai

fang'ai

=

fang-ai

dangan

=

dan-gan

dang'an

=

dang-an

 

 

 

7. Omissions

 

There are a few combinations of pinyin letters in which a pinyin sound is pronounced, yet, the respective pinyin letter is not written. I guess, the Chinese do this because they have an affinity for abbreviations.

 

written   prounounced

ing

=

ieng

iu

=

iou

ui

=

uei

un

=

uen

 

 

 

8. The Four Main Tones

 

In Chinese, there are four different tones in which a syllable can be pronounced. In addition, there is a fifth tone which is actually toneless. In order to make it easier for you to remember the tone, on this website, each tone has a separate colour. Tone 1 is red, tone 2 yellow, tone 3 green, tone 4 blue and tone 5 black.

 

The idea behind these colours is this: For beginners of the Chinese language - and even for some Chinese - it is hard to remember the right tones of all the Chinese syllables (characters). After seeing a character in certain colour for a while you will remember the colour of a character. By remembering the colour you will remember the correct tone. Nice! Isn't it?

 

 

 

9. Pronouncing a Syllable Slowly

 

When Chinese want to emphasize the right tone they pronounce a syllable slowly.

 

Illustration on which one can see how the four tones in Chinese are pronounced when they are pronounced slowly. Tone 1, tone 2, tone 3, tone 4.

 

Tone 1 is pronounced evenly and with a rather high voice, a bit like a soprano singer who sings the same sound for a long time while letting it fade. We have chosen the color red for this tone as it fades away like the red sun in the evening.

 

Tone 2 goes up as if someone was asking something. One can also compare tone 2 to the sound of a motorcycle which accelerates and changes gears. After each change of gears, a new tone 2 starts. We have chosen the color yellow as the sun is usually yellow when it comes up.

 

Tone 3 falls firstly and then it rises. This is quite strenuous for which reason the Chinese pronounce a distinct falling and rising sound only if they want to emphasize the tone 3. Yet, during an everyday conversation, tone 3 is simply pronounced a bit deeper than the other syllables. So, don't get confused by tone 3. The rule of thumb is: Tone 3 is deep. If you focus on that, you will be well off! We have chosen green for tone 3 as grass grows on the ground.

 

Tone 4 is short and falling. At the start of a tone-4-syllable, the voice is high. Then it falls quickly as if someone was sighing quickly and vigorously. The blue color stands for water which always flows downwards.

 

Don't think that the tones are extremely diffucult! If you can differentiate between a soprano singer, a motorcycle, a deep voice and someone sighing, you can also differentiate between the four tones in Chinese!

 

Our ears are well trained to hear differences in tones. In English, we use different tones in order to communicate that we want to ask something. Compare the following two sentences: You did this! You did this? Speak the two sentences aloud! The only difference is the tone! So, we use different tones in English too! We just have to use our capability to hear different tones in English in a different way when we listen to Chinese. It took us several years to learn our mother language. So, why should we get desperate if it takes us a few hours in order to develop a sense for the different tones in Chinese?

 

 

 

10. Overemphasized Tone 3

 

Sometimes Chinese overemphazise tone 3 and by doing so they actually pronounce two tones, a falling one and a rising one with a short pause in between. This way of pronouncing tone 3 is helpful if one wants to make sure that the counterpart definitely hears tone 3. Yet, this is kind of a "street Mandarin". In the following illustration, we show you this way of pronouncing tone 3.

 

Illustration on which one can see how tone 3 is pronounced when it is divided into a falling and rising tone with a short break in between.

 

 

 

11. Quickly Spoken Syllables

 

In conversations, the Chinese pronounce the tones shortly and they don't emphazise tone 3.

 

Illustration on which one can see how the four tones in Chinese are pronounced when they are pronounced quickly: Tone 1, tone 2, tone 3, tone 4.

 

As a rule of thumb one might memorize:

Tone 1: high

Tone 2: rising

Tone 3: deep

Tone 4: falling

 

 

 

12. Tone 5

 

Tone 5 (black) is the neutral tone. A syllable with a neutral tone doesn't have a fixed pitch. It is rather adopting the tone of the preceding syllable while letting the respective tone fade. In addition, a tone-5-syllable is pronounced rather shortly. In the following illustration, you see the tone of a preceding syllable (colourful) and the tone of the neutral syllable (black).

 

Illustrations of the neutral tone in Chinese on which one can see how tone 5 (neutral tone) is pronounced after characters with tone 1, tone 2, tone 3 and tone 4.

 

If another syllabe follows tone 5, tone 5 is kind of a springboard for the tone of the following syllable.

 

 

 

13. Tone 3 + Tone 3 Changes to Tone 2 + Tone 3

 

If two syllables in tone 3 follow eachother, the first of the two syllables changes to tone 2. This makes sense as it is quite strenuous to pronounce two tone-3-syllables one after another.

 

Illustration on which one can see how tone 3 changes into tone 2 when two characters with tone 3 follow eachother.

 

Example: 你好 ( nǐhǎo, hello) is pronounced níhǎo (= ni2hao3).

 

 

 

14. Tone Changes of 一 (Yī One)

 

一 (yī one) means "one". This word is quite frequently used in different combinations. The tone of 一 (yī one) changes when it appears in combination with other characters.

 

Illustration on which one can see how the tone of the character 一 (yī one) changes when it is followed by a character in tone 1, tone 2, tone 3 or tone 4.

 

Example 1: 一些 (yīxiē, some) is pronounced yìxiē (yi4xie1).

Example 2: 一齐 (yīqí, together) is pronounced yìqí (yi4qi2).

Example 3: 一点 (yīdiǎn, a little) is pronounced yìdiǎn (yi4dian3).

Example 4: 一个 (yīgè, one) is pronounced yígè (yi2ge4) .

 

As a rule of thumb you might memorize: 一 (yī) is pronounced as yì (yi4) when it is used in combination with another character.

 

 

 

15. Tone Change of 不 (Bù Not)

 

The tone of bù (bu4) changes if another tone-4-syllable follows:

 

Illustration on which one can see how the tone of the character 不 (bù  not) changes when it is followed by a character with tone 1.

 

Example: 不对 (bùduì, not correct) is pronounced búduì (bu2dui4).

 

 

 

16. 3-Character-Phrases

 

If the characters 一 (yī one) and 不 (bù not) stand between other syllables which belong to the same phrase, they take on the the neutral tone which means that they adopt the tone of the preceding syllable while serving as a kind of springboard for the tone of the next syllable.

 

The following illustration might be a bit confusing at first sight. Yet, it illustrates how the tone of 一 (yī one) becomes a neutral tone which means that it can adopt every tone by building kind of a "tone connection" between the the tone of the preceding character and the tone of the following character.

 

Illustration on which one can see how the tone of the character 一 (yī one) changes when it is part of a three-character-phrase.

Example: 另一个 (lìngyīgè, another) is pronounced lìngyígè (ling2 - yi toneless - ge4).

 

The same thing happens to 不 (bù not) if it is part of a three-character-phrase.

 

Illustration on which one can see how the tone of the character 不 (bù  not) changes when it is part of a three-character-phrase.

Example: 对不起 (duìbuqǐ, sorry) turns into duìbuqǐ (dui4 - bu toneless - qi3).

 

Now, you know all about the Chinese tones and the tone changes. Don't spend too much time on the tone changes in the beginning. Just remember that they exist and don't become confused if you hear a 一 (yī one) or a 不 (bù not) pronounced with a different tone!

 

 

 

17. Introductory Video to the Pronunciation Section of Lenaia.com

 

In this video, you get an introduction to the structure of the pinyin Section.

 

Please watch the videos to the five parts (books) of this website in the following sequence:

 

1. Introduction to the Chinese Language

 

2. Chinese Radicals

 

3. Chinese Characters and Picture Stories

 

4. Chinese Pronunciation

 

5. Chinese Grammar

 

6. Chinese Lessons

 

If your download speed is too slow, start the video, press the pause button and wait for a few minutes before you press play again. In the meantime, the video is downloaded. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Thank you for learning Chinese with us!

 

 

 

 

© Lenaia Ltd 2007-2012