Pronouncing words in Mandarin: Initials

What are initials in Mandarin?

Mandarin characters don’t tell you how to pronounce a word.

Pinyin was invented to help those learning Mandarin with pronunciation - listen 拼音 pīn yīn literally translates to ‘spell sound’.

As shown, the sound of a character consists of an initial, a final and one of four tones or a neutral tone.

Initials are the consonant at the beginning of the mandarin syllable.

How do you pronounce initials in Mandarin?

B - listen (father)

P - listen (climb)

M - listen (mother)

F - listen 出发 chū fā (set off)

D - listen (big)

T - listen (he)

N - listen 那个 nà ge (that one)

L - listen (spicy)

G - listen (measure word)

K - listen (card)

H - listen (drink)

J - listen jiā (home)

Q - listen (seven)

X - listen 下面 xià miàn (beneath or below)

Zh - listen zhè (this)

Ch - listen chē (vehicle)

Sh - listen shé (snake)

R - listen (hot)

Z - listen zuǐ (mouth)

C - listen (wipe)

S - listen 颜色 yán sè (colour)

Y - listen (tooth)

W - listen 青蛙 qīng wā (frog)

Did you know?

For many Mandarin sounds, once the pronunciation of their initials and finals is known, the pronunciation of the full word can be figured out by combining the two with their tone, for example:

Initial - j

Final - i and ao

Tone - v (down then up)

Initial - d

Final - u and an

Tone - v (down then up)

Initial - ch

Final - ang

Tone - ´ (rising)

Dash and Blink: Missing Mandarin
Test your maths and times table skills!