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A Chinese Pronunciation Guide for Beginners

Learning to speak any language can be a difficult task. In particular, learning to speak Chinese can be especially difficult for those who are not at all familiar with the language. For instance, despite having one of the most difficult languages to master, many Americans struggle to learn to speak Chinese. This is because the language is so different from their native tongue, English. That said, the following is a short Chinese pronunciation guide for beginners to help make Chinese pronunciation easier for those attempting to learn the language for the first time.

The Pinyin

No matter what language you are trying to learn, you have to begin at the beginning. Just as you had to learn the English alphabet to speak English, you must also learn the Chinese alphabet, or the pinyin, before you can begin speaking Chinese. Given that Chinese is not a phonetic language, the pinyin is a special system designed to help people learn to pronounce Mandarin words. Moreover, the special and pronunciation are drastically different from the English language, so you cannot use your knowledge of English as the basis for learning Chinese or Mandarin.

Learning the Tones

A tonal language above all, a large part of learning to speak Chinese involves learning how to use the proper tone. The following is a short overview of these tones:

  • Tone 1 – Often represented with a straight horizontal line above a letter in pinyin, this tone is described as both high and level. When speaking this tone, your pitch will be slightly elevated. However, you will want to keep your voice even while speaking the entire syllable for proper execution.
  • Tone 2 – Akin to the tone we use in English when asking a question, this tone causes you to slightly raise your pitch while speaking it. It is represented using a rising diagonal line above the pinyin letter.
  • Tone 3 – This tone is very distinctive as it requires the voice to rise and fall while speaking. Represented by making a curved line above the letter in the pinyin, tonal dipping is a common phrase used to describe this tone.
  • Tone 4 – This tone begins high but quickly drops to the bottom of the tonal range. For English speakers, this is most closely associated with the tone used to denote anger. This is typically represented by a diagonal line that appears to be dropping, above the pinyin letters.
  • Tone 5– The last tone, or neutral tone is not mapped on a tone chart as it does not have a defined pitch. This tone is described as quick and light, regardless of pitch. These typically have no tone mark with relation to being written with letters of the pinyin.

Pronouncing J, Q, X

English is so drastically different from Chinese that you actually have to learn new sounds to speak it. Here’s the Chinese pronunciation guide for the characters “J,”, “Q,”, and “X.”

  • Learning J – To pronounce this sound, you need to begin with your the tip of your tongue behind your lower front teeth. Now, if you make the English ‘J’ sound, this will sound like a Chinese ‘J’.
  • Learning X – Similar to learning the ‘J’ sound, this also requires you to put the tip of your tongue behind your front bottom teeth. You now want to make the English ‘sh’ sound and this will give you the sound of a Chinese ‘X’.
  • Learning Q – Just as with ‘J’ and ‘X’, you must also begin with your tongue behind your front bottom teeth. However, you want to add a ‘T’ sound before making the sound for ‘X’ and this will give you the sound for a Chinese ‘Q’.

Now you’ve got the Chinese pronunciation guide for beginners. Let’s move to the further details of Chinese pronunciation by checking these articles:

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This article was published by the Pandanese Team.

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