Chinese pronunciation is the basic part of mastering mandarin Chinese. If you want to learn this language well, it is necessary to lay a good foundation about Chinese pronunciation from the beginning.
No matter your level, it’s never too late to make sure your pronunciation is correct. All in all, a good beginning is half the battle. With this guide, you can learn Chinese pronunciation easily and in a correct way.
Table of Contents
1. History of Chinese Pronunciation
Chinese is not a phonetic language. So, its pronunciation is not related to the writing of Chinese words (characters). Therefore, Pinyin was the special system, created for people to learn Mandarin pronunciation. It was developed in the 1958 which was around the same time the simplified Chinese characters were developed. It is a system which uses the Latin letters to provide the pronunciation of Chinese characters.
1.1. How was it in the past
In the past, Chinese used the other Chinese characters to provide the pronunciation for a new character. i.e. a new character “昌”, in order to mark the pronunciation of this character, two other Chinese characters were used to provide the pronunciation, which are “ 尺” and “良”. The first character “尺“ gives the initial sound which is “ch”, and the second character “良“ gives the finishing sound which is “ang”, combine the initial and the finishing sounds together, you have the sound of “chang”, which is the pronunciation of “ 昌”.
However, it is not always easy to find the perfect two or three Chinese characters that will help provide exactly the right pronunciation for a new character. Yet, sometimes, people even used the more complicated and unknown words to provide the pronunciations. Adding all these factors together, it is easy to see why this way could not provide the right tone of the character either.
1.2. “Romanize” chinese and Pinyin
The first person who used Latin letters to provide the pronunciations for Chinese characters was a missionary from Italy, Matteo Ricci. He came to China in the year of 1583 and he stayed there for 27 years until he died in Beijing in 1610. Another missionary from France, Nicolas Trigault came to China in 1610 and carried on Matteo’s Latin pronunciation system.
The early Latin system and current Pinyin system, were all able to provide more accurate pronunciations. They also linked the Chinese and alphabet languages together, which made it possible for foreigners to learn Chinese pronunciations.
One Chinese Character is associates with only one syllabus, and each Chinese character has its own pinyin syllable. And one Pinyin syllable is normally composed by one initial pronunciation and one finishing pronunciation. The initials are similar to the consonants, and finishing sounds are similar to the vows in English.
There are 23 initials, which are “声母” in Chinese.
They are as follow:
B, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s, y, w
3. Finishing （24个）
There are 24 finishing sounds which are “韵母”. These sounds are following the initials to combine a syllabus. However, most of the finishing sounds can form one syllabus by themselves also.
There are 6 single vowels as finishing sounds: a, e, i, o, u, ü.
There are 14 double vowels: ai,ei,ui,ao,ou,iu,ie,üe, er, an, en, in, un, ün.
There are 4 triple vowels: ang, eng, ing, ong.
On top of the above, there are 16 whole syllables as followings:
Zhi, chi, shi, ri, zi, ci, si, yi, wu, yu, ye, yue, yuan, yin, yun, ying
There are three parts in a pinyin syllable, which are the Initial, Final and Tone. Initial and final represent the segmental phonetic portion of the language, rather than letter by letter.
Examples for Chinese syllables:
4. Is it really hard to learn chinese?
This is a good question, and in my view the most appropriate answer is “Not if you take it as a jigsaw puzzle game (link to article)”. Mandarin chinese is complex, and this difficulty is exacerbated by the expectations many have of finding an easy way to learn fast. Instead, it’s better to think “I have a framework (e.g. 1,000 characters), I have great techniques from EAZZYCHINESE, I have great books to learn chinese and I will put the time. That equation will guarantee you success.