Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language
This introductory lesson to Mandarin Pinyin pronunciation is divided into 7 parts and click the following links (in blue) to start. The materials for practice are available on the CDROM, For more information on Pinyin please visit the Wikipedia website.
6. tone changes
The six vowels in Pinyin pronunciation are listed below. They will be read in the first tone, which sounds like a sustained sung note. Please listen and repeat after me.
It sounds like the noise you might make when your doctor is examining the inside of your mouth. Open your mouth wide and say: “aah”.
Push your lips forward into a small circle, with your tongue at the bottom of your mouth, leaving a hollow space above it. Say: “o”. Your lips should make the shape they take when you say the English word “law”.
Make a sound as if you have seen something really disgusting: “ergh”. When e is used with other vowels it can also be pronounced “ê” which is similar to “e” in the English word “bed”.
Pull your lips slightly back and push your tongue up towards the hard palate without touching it. It is similar to the “ea” sound in the English word “squeak”.
Push your lips forward and make a narrow gap through which your breath can vibrate. Your lips should take the shape they make when you say the word “fool”.
It is similar to the umlaut “ü” in German or the French “u”. Say “ee” through tightly pursed lips (form the shape they make when you say the “sh” of the English word fish).
The following vowels will be read in the first tone. The first tone is like singing a sustained note. If you read them in the following order, you will notice that the gap between your lips will gradually get narrower.
Listen carefully to the following three vowels.
Can you tell the difference? Listen carefully and write down the three vowels. (Place the mouse over the lines to see the answers.)
Repeat after me.
Now please listen very carefully to the next three vowels.
Can you guess which one I am reading? Write down the three vowels.
Repeat after me.
When you have learnt how to pronounce these vowels individually, you can try to read out some combined vowels. I will read out the following groups of vowels in the first tone. When you are ready, you can repeat after me.
Some irregular features
There are some irregular features in Pinyin pronunciation. When the vowel ē comes before or after the vowels ī and ǖ, it should be pronounced “e” as in “bed”. Let's read the following 3 examples in the first tone.
When o is followed by u, the pronunciation of o is similar to the English letter "o". Listen and repeat after me. When you are ready, you can repeat after me.
I am going to read two groups of combined vowels that are written in an abbreviated form. Please listen and repeat carefully after me.
Can you work out the "missing vowels" in the above groups? Write down all the vowels you hear.
The following consonants: p, f, t, k, h, q, x, c, s, ch and sh are aspirated sounds. If you put your palm in front of your mouth when you are reading out these letters, you will feel the air being exhaled. Read the following consonants after me in the first tone - you will be practising your vowels as well.
When you read out the following letters close your teeth, but not too tightly. Place your tongue so that it is just vibrating against the back of your upper front teeth. Please note: the vowel “i” should NOT be pronounced in this case. The (here soundless) letter “i” is placed after z, c, s, zh, ch and sh in written Pinyin as a vehicle for indicating the tones.
There are five groups with the end sound “g” and five groups with the end sound “n”. In the following slide show these groups will be read in the first tone. The first tone is like singing a sustained note. Please listen and repeat after me.
Write down the following Pinyin in the correct form and read it out loud. (Please go through Sessions 5 and 6 before trying the following exercises.) Click here for the answers.
There are four full tones in Mandarin pronunciation, and one neutral tone. Let’s read out the vowel “a” in the four tones.
Where should I mark the tones?
Tones should be marked on a vowel. If a word has more than one vowel, the tone should be marked on the main vowel of the word. Vowels are listed in the following order: a, o, e, i, u and ü. As the vowel ‘a’ appears first in this list, the tone in the word liao should be marked on the vowel ‘a’.
1. The 3rd tone is a changeable tone. When two 3rd tones come together, the first 3rd tone should be changed into a 2nd tone, e.g., nĭhăo (你好 hello) should be pronounced níhăo.
2. When a 3rd tone is followed by a 1st, 2nd, 4th or neutral tone, the 3rd tone should be pronounced as a low 3rd tone. In other words it is a low sustained tone, e.g., as in jĭnzhāng (紧张 nervous) and jiĕfàng (解放 liberate). Both jĭn and jiĕ stay in the lower part of your voice and you don’t move the sound up.
3. Only under the following situations should the 3rd tone be pronounced as a proper 3rd tone:
4. When a sentence has three third tones next to each other, it can be changed into the following two patterns:
For example: wŏ hĕnhăo (我很好 I am fine) can be pronounced either wŏ hénhăo or wó hénhăo.
The neutral tone is a short and light tone, as described above. The best way to remember how to pronounce the neutral tone is to remember its length and its pitch as follows:
Listen and repeat after me.