Sunday, 25 February 2024, 05:51


This page provides the basic information for correct pronunciation of spoken Mandarin. You might want to refer back to it often as you proceed through the lessons.

Pin Yin    

Designed in the People's Republic of China during the mid-1950s, pinyin is a phonetic system of the Chinese language. It adopts the roman alphabet to represent phonetic sounds in Mandarin Chinese. There have been many different systems of transcription used for learning Chinese pronunciation. Whereas China's capital was once called "Peking" in English, using pinyin it is now written "Beijing".

Mandarin Tones    

Mandarin Chinese has four pitched tones and a "toneless" tone, indicated respectively by the tone marks , , V, and without a mark. The reason for having these tones is probably that the Chinese language has very few possible syllables -- approximately 400 -- while English has about 12,000. For this reason, there may be more homophonic words, words with the same sound expressing different meanings, in Chinese than in most other languages.

Apparently tones help the relatively small number of syllables to multiply and thereby alleviate but not completely solve the problem. Learning Chinese in context, therefore, is very important.

Tone Tone mark Description Example
First Tone high, level pitch t = kick
Second Tone starting high and rising t = lift
Third Tone V falling first, then rising t = body
Fourth Tone starting high and falling t = replace

The first tone is high in pitch and even.

The second tone is the rising tone, starting from a high pitch and rising briefly.

The third tone is a falling rising tone.

The fourth tone is a falling tone, starting high and descending briefly.

There is also a neutral tone. It is short and unaccented. Its pitch relies on a natural extension of the preceding tone. It is conveyed by the absence of a sign.

When one low tone follows another, the first one becomes a rising tone.

Having a good pronunciation depends greatly on getting the tones right. Of all the difficulties found in learning Chinese, the problem of tones is undoubtedly the most difficult.


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