The standard Romanization system used for Mandarin Chinese.
While most of the letters are the same or very close to the
English usage, there are some important differences.
Mandarin Chinese may sound strange, but is actually relatively easy
for English-speakers to pick up—much
easier than it is for Mandarin-speakers to learn English. A large part of the reason is that Chinese has a very limited
syllabary, meaning there are not many sounds in the language, and hardly any new ones if you already know English.
On the other hand, that means Chinese-speakers trying
to grasp English must learn to create dozens of entirely new sounds—remember that as you proceed through these first
One very different aspect of Chinese is its use of
tones. Because of its limited
pitches of voice are used to help differentiate words. While some
dialects of Chinese
have up to nine tones, Mandarin is comparatively easy with only four.
It's often difficult
for beginners to distinguish the tone of a word, especially when not
sure of the context.
Even if you have perfect pitch, it may be hard to follow or reproduce
what can seem like
a rollercoaster ride of tonal transitions. Don't worry though, as
you'll improve with
practice. These lessons will describe how to understand and reproduce
all the syllables
and tones of Chinese.
A note about
The IPA, or
International Phonetic Alphabet, is a standard set of symbols that can be used
to write any sound from any human language. If you know the IPA, it will be
used here to
give you a grounding in pinyin—the most common Romanization system for Chinese,
which will be used for the rest of the text.
There are three parts to all syllables in Mandarin; the
initial, the final, and the tone.
pinyin, the tone, initial, and final are represented as
The tone is represented by a tone mark placed on top of
the syllable. There are exactly
four tone marks: ￣, ˊ, ˇ, and ˋ. The two dots on ü (like a German umlaut) do not
do with the tone, so if you see
, , , or , the symbol above the dots represents the tone.