Tips on Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation
One of the first steps in learning Mandarin Chinese is becoming accustomed to the language's pronunciation. Learning how to pronounce Mandarin Chinese helps with speaking and listening skills as it is a tonal language.
WHAT MAKES A SYLLABLE?
The Mandarin language has 21 consonants and 16 vowels. They can be combined together to create more than 400 mono-syllabic sounds.
There are also four tones that change the meaning of the syllable, so in theory, there are about 1600 possible syllables.
Only around 1000 of these are commonly used, however, which means that Mandarin words actually are more similar than words in English.
Similar to English, you should learn to hear the differences and work on learning how to pronounce Chinese sounds.
Here is a chart of the 37 sounds of Mandarin with a sound clip of each. Practice these as much as you can—they will provide the foundation learning how to pronounce Mandarin.
The sounds are given in Pinyin, but please be aware that each letter does not represent just one sound. Just like how in English, the vowel "a" is pronounced differently in different cases. For example, compare the more nasally-sounding "ant" to the elongated "a" in "at". There are also many tricky cases you need to learn in Chinese!
Pinyin Explanation Sound Clip
b similar to 'b' in the English 'boat' - softened to approach a 'p' sound audio
p similar to 'p' in the English 'top' - with more aspiration audio
m same as 'm' in the English 'mat' audio
f same as 'f' in the English 'fat' audio
d similar to 'd' in the English 'down' - softened to approach a 't' sound audio
t similar to 't' in the English 'top' - with more aspiration audio
n similar to 'n' in the English 'name' audio
l similar to 'l' in the English 'look' audio
g similar to 'g' in the English 'go' - softened to approach a 'k' sound audio
k similar to 'k' in the English 'kiss' - with more aspiration audio
h similar to 'h' in the English 'hope' - with a slight rasp as in 'loch' audio
j similar to 'j' in the English 'jeep' - tongue is positioned below lower teeth audio
q similar to 'ch' in the English 'cheap' - tongue is positioned below lower teeth audio
x similar to 'sh' in the English 'sheep' - tongue is positioned below lower teeth audio
zh similar to 'j' in the English 'jam' audio
ch similar to 'ch' in the English 'cheap' audio
sh similar to 'sh' in the English 'ship' audio
r similar to 'z' in the English 'azure' audio
z same as 'ds' in the English 'woods' audio
c similar to 'ts' in the English 'bits' audio
s similar to 's' in the English 'see' audio
(y)i similar to 'ee' in the English 'bee' audio
(w)u similar to 'oo' in the English 'room' audio
yu purse your lips and position the tongue high and forwards audio
a similar to 'ah' in the English 'Ah-hah!' audio
(w)o similar to 'or' in the English 'bore' audio
e similar to 'er' in the English 'hers' audio
(y)e similar to the English 'Yay!' audio
ai similar to the English 'eye' audio
ei similar to 'ei' in the English 'weigh' audio
ao similar to 'au' in the English 'sauerkraut' audio
ou similar to 'ou' in the English 'dough' audio
an similar to 'an' in the English 'fan' audio
en similar to 'un' in the English 'under' audio
ang a Mandarin 'a' followed by the 'ng' sound like in the English 'sing' audio
eng a Mandarin 'e' followed by the 'ng' sound like in the English 'sing' audio
er a Mandarin 'e' with the tongue curled back audio