Basic Mandarin Course - Pinyin
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Pinyin

Pinyin is the most popular and government supported way of Chinese romanization - which means writing Chinese using letters.

Tones

Tones in Pinyin are represented as follows:

ma

The final "ma" represents the "silent" tone, so if there is a syllable like this there is no need to worry about tones.

Initals & Finals

Every character in Chinese represents at least one syllable. Syllable means the way this character is pronounced and each of those syllables consists of an initial and a final, both being sounds.

This way of splitting up pronounciation is helpful for some, but by far not everybody. If it is helpful it can be used, but it is by no means something that needs to be studied intensely.

Initals

Initials are the first part of every syllable and therefore of every Pinyin-word. The initials in use are:

b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, x and z as well as ch, zh and sh

Furthermore there are y and w which, however, are not counted as real initials. For more information, please have a look at Wikipedia.

Finals

With initials being the first part of a syllable, finals are, of course, the second and last part. The finals in Mandarin are:

a, ao, ai, an, ang, o, ou, ong, u, ü, ua, uai, uan, uang, ue, üe, un, uo, ui, e, er, ei, en, eng, i, ia, iao, iu, ie, ian, in, iang, ing and iong

With some exceptions where no initial is used, any syllable you will study will be a combination of one of the listed initials with one of the listed finals. All combinations with sound files can be found in the Pronounciation Tool. For more information on initals and finals, please have a look at Wikipedia.

Potential Difficulties

There are some difficult parts in Chinese pronounciation and Pinyin which might cause confusion or problems:

U - Ü

Ü is known from German and is pronounced more or less the same way in Mandarin which is quite a challenge for English speakers in the beginning. But this is not where the problems with Ü stop.

For some reason the makers of Pinyin used Ü everywhere except behind j, q, x and y. This leads to the problem that the final of lü and xu is written differently but pronounced in the same way.


Well, there's not really a way to change this, so it is important to remember that a U after those four initals (j, q, x and y) is always read as Ü (the same is true for ue and üe).

lüè
xuè


Q - J - X

Not much to explain here, just distinguishing those three initials might be a little bit difficult, both for speaking and listening.



Z - C - S

Same as above, people with different language backgrounds might find this one easy or really difficult.



ZH - CH - SH

And finally, the last three ones. Properly distinguishing those sounds is very important, probably the most important thing apart from tones.

zhī
chī
shī


Rules of Writing

In case you might need to write Pinyin for some tests it is important to say that there are rules on how to place the signs for tones, when to use capital letters, etc. However, it is not important for studying Chinese, so it is not covered here, have a look at Wikipedia for more details.

Pinyin on your PC

If you want to write Pinyin on your Computer, take a look at the Pinyin Editor. It makes writing Pinyin with tones really easy.