How To Pronounce Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is becoming a more common language. Just as with the Spanish language, for example, it may soon become a popular choice for those wishing to learn a second language. After completing a few courses in Mandarin Chinese, you will be on your way to speaking it well enough to pronounce the words correctly.

The Mandarin language is composed of 21 consonants and 16 vowels that are combined together forming a total of 413-mono syllabic sounds. These sounds are commonly not used in the English language. Once you hear the correct pronunciation, you may compare them with similar English sounds.

Mandarin Chinese has four tones. These tones signify the meaning of the words. The different tones make it easier to understand what is really meant by a word since a lot of characters have the same sound. The four tones in Mandarin Chinese are:

  • high level – first tone (macron- ā )
  • rising – second tone (acute accent –á )
  • falling rising – third tone (caron or breve accent-ă )
  • falling – fourth tone (grave accent-à )

These four tones are usually written in Romanized text by diacritical marks. When you use these four tones on the 413 mono-syllabic sound combinations, you get around 1,600 unique syllables! That’s certainly a lot of syllables to try out and get familiar with.

There are tone marks on Pinyin words to show which tone is to be used for a particular word. Pinyin is a system used in the transliteration of Mandarin Chinese with 25 European characters (the letter “v” is not included). The letters in Mandarin Chinese are pronounced similar to the European pronunciation but with marked differences in specific letters. Below is a list of consonants that are pronounced differently in Mandarin.

  • c – this is pronounced as ch but your tongue should touch your lower front teeth
  • j – this is pronounced as j in jump but more softly and your tongue should touch your lower front teeth
  • q – this is pronounced as tch
  • z – this is pronounced like j but softer
  • zh – this is pronounced like j as in jeans

Vowels are also pronounced differently in Mandarin Chinese. Below is a list of vowels and diphthongs as they are said in Mandarin Chinese pronunciation.

  • a – pronounced as a as in father
  • ao – pronounced as ow as in how
  • e – pronounced as a as in ago
  • ei – pronounced as a as in bake
  • i – pronounced as i as in sit
  • ia/ie – pronounced as ye as in yes
  • o – pronounced as aw as in saw
  • ou – pronounced as o as in go
  • u – pronounced as oo as in too
  • uo – pronounced as oo+aw as in war

If you are serious about learning Mandarin Chinese, it would be better to enroll in a class where you can practice the language with your classmates rather than to buy an audiotape or a book on learning Mandarin Chinese. And if you are successful, well, you just got the chance to speak with 1 billion people.


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