Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin, the official language of China, Taiwan and Singapore, is based on northern Chinese dialects, and is known in China as Common Speech (普通话). Mandarin is spoken by about 960 million people in China. 

Relevant web links for Mandarin pronunciation and writing of Chinese characters.

Special characteristics of Mandarin

1.       Spoken language

Tonal language: four tones plus a neutral tone. The third tone is a changeable tone[1].

The first tone is marked by a straight line . It has a long, sustained sound (as if singing a note).  

The second tone goes upwards . It is a rising tone (start from the mid-lower part of your voice, then go up).

The third tone goes down and up V.  It is a low, curved tone (try to go as low as you can and then bounce up). 

The fourth tone goes downwards \. It is a falling tone (start from the grating highest parts of your voice, then go down, as if exclaiming).

The neutral tone has no mark. It is a short and light tone.

Let’s practise the following expressions.

Nĭhăo (你好lit. ‘you good’) Hello

Nĭhăo ma (你好吗 ‘you good ma’ [interrogative particle]) How are you?

Xièxie (谢谢) Thanks

Zàijiàn (再见‘again see’) See (you) again or goodbye


2.       Written Chinese (Chinese characters)


Simplified form (from the late 1950s) and full form characters (developed over several thousand years)



Radicals and components in Chinese characters

  + female + child

Stroke order

·         From left to right

·         From top to bottom

[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. 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. Only under the following situations should the 3rd tone be pronounced as a proper 3rd tone: when a 3rd tone is on its own and when a 3rd tone is at the end of a sentence or a phrase.