Pronouncing words in Mandarin: Special sounds
Pinyin was invented to help people learn the pronunciation of Mandarin characters.
For example, the Mandarin for mountain can be broken down as the initial (sh), the final (an) and the first tone (-) to make
The following sounds do not follow this general rule - they should be read as a whole, rather than separated into their initial and final.
The ‘zhi’ sound in Mandarin is like an extension of the 'j' sound in 'jerk', eg:
知zhĪ (to know) 直zhÍ (straight) 纸zhǐ (paper) 智zhì (intelligence)
The ‘chi’ sound in Mandarin is like an extension of the 'ch' sound in 'church', eg:
吃chĪ (to eat) 迟chÍ (late) 尺chǐ (a ruler) 翅chì (wing)
The ‘shi’ sound in Mandarin is like an extension of the 'sh' sound in 'shirt', eg:
诗shĪ (poem) 十shÍ (ten) 史shǐ (history) 是shì (yes, is or are)
The 'ri' sound in Mandarin is pronounced like the ending of of the 'zhi', chi' and 'shi' sounds, like an 'rrrr' noise with the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, eg:
日rì (sun or day)
Did you know?
The 'zh-', 'ch-', 'sh-' and 'r-' sounds are called retroflexes.
This means that you make them by curling the tip of your tongue back to touch the middle of the roof of your mouth.
When they are followed just by an 'i' in pinyin, the 'i' is not really sounded but becomes like an extension of the initial sound.
The ‘zi’ sound in Mandarin is similar to ‘ds’ in ‘suds’, eg:
滋味zī wèi (taste) 子zǐ (son or child) 字zì (word)
The ‘ci’ sound in Mandarin is similar to the ‘ts’ in ‘cats’, eg:
词cÍ (word) 此cǐ (this) 次cì (times)
The 'si' sound in Mandarin is similar to the 'ss' in 'hiss' with an 'r' at the end, eg:
思考sī kǎo (to think) 四sì (four)
The ‘yi’ sound is similar to the ‘ee’ in ‘cheese’, eg:
一yĪ (one) 阿姨ā yí (aunt) 椅子yǏ zi (chair) 容易róng yì (easy)
The ‘yu’ sound is like 'eew' said with rounded lips, eg:
鱼yú (fish) 雨yǔ (rain) 玉yù (jade)
The ‘ye’ sound is similar to a light pronunciation of ‘air’, eg:
爷爷yé ye (grandfather) 也yě (as well) 夜yè (night)
Ü is pronounced by rounding your lips and saying the 'ee' in 'see' without moving your lips.
‘Yue’ is similar to the pronuniciation of Ü but with the sound of the word 'air' on the end, eg:
约会yuē huì (date) 月yuè (month)
The ‘yuan’ sound is similar to a combination of ‘you’ and ‘an’, eg:
公园gōng yuán (park) 愿yuàn (hope)
The ‘yin’ sound is similar to the ‘ean’ in ‘bean’, eg:
因为yīn wèi (because) 银色yín sè (silver) 饮yǐn (drink)
The ‘yun’ sound is similar to the ‘oon’ in ‘moon’, eg:
云yún (cloud) 允许yǔn xǔ (allow) 熨斗yùn dǒu (iron)
The ‘ying’ sound is similar to the ‘ing’ in ‘thing’, eg:
鹰yīng (eagle) 赢yíng (win) 影子yǐng zi (shadow)
The ‘wu’ sound is similar to the ‘oo’ in ‘room’, eg:
乌鸦wū yā (crow) 无wú (none) 五wǔ (five) 雾wù (fog)