How to Read Pinyin

January 28, 2015 | Articles

Mandarin Chinese greatly differs from the English language. It’s written form does not use an alphabet, but rather each syllable is represented by a character. The simplest characters are made up of one part. (口,人,了) Other characters are more complex, containing many parts. (超,帮) Characters always represent a single syllable, whether they are simple or complex.

Parts of Character Pronunciation

In order to read a Chinese character, we need to know it’s pinyin form. Pinyin is the method used to translate Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. In this lesson, we will learn to read the pinyin and see how its pronunciation differs from English.

Each character is pronounced with three factors: initial, final, and tone.

The initials are the first ingredient in pronouncing a Chinese character. The final is what follows the initial to make a complete syllable. The tone of a character is the pitch that each complete syllable is pronounced with. In this article, we will learn the pronunciation of the pinyin initials and finals.

Remember, when we are reading pinyin, there are pronunciation rules that we must follow. Although the alphabet is the same, we cannot follow our natural tendencies to pronounce certain letters and letter combinations. For example, the letters “zu’qie” naturally read as “zoo-quai” for an English speaker. However the letter’s “z” and “q” are pronounced very differently in pinyin. A proper pronunciation sounds phonetically like “dzoo-chee-ay”.

The chart of initials and finals below will be a great primer for mastering pinyin pronunciation. Don’t worry about learning it all at once. As you learn vocabulary and hear words pronounced, you will become more acquainted with the nuances of the pinyin.

Initials

Finals

b Same as English a Pronounced “ah” like in “father”.
d Same as English e Pronounced “uh” like in a British “her” or “terse”.
f Same as English i Pronounced “ee” like in “see”.
g Same as English o Pronounced like the “ough” in “dough”.
h Same as English u Pronounced “oo” like in “soon”.
k Same as English ai Prounounced “ai” like in “aisle”.
l Same as English ao Pronounced like “au” in “sauerkraut”.
m Same as English an Pronounced like the “aun” in “sauna”.
n Same as English en Pronounced like the “an” in “American”.
p Same as English ang A pinyin “a” followed by an “ng” sound.
t Same as English eng Same as “en” above but with an “ng” sound.
y Same as English ong Similar to the “o” in core followed by “ng”.
r Same as English but with tongue tip curled upward. ei Pronounced like the “eigh” in “weigh”.
sh Same as English “sh” but with tongue tip curled upward. ou Pronounced like the “ough” in “dough”.
ch Same as English but with tongue tip curled upward. ue Pinyin “u” sound followed by “eh” like in “meh”.
zh Same as English “j” but with tongue tip curled upward. uo Pronounced like the “wa” in “wall”.
z Pronounced like the “ds” in “woods” with the tongue tip slightly forward. ui Pinyin “u” followed by the “eigh” in “weigh”.
c Pronounced like the “t’s h” in “it’s here”. un Pinyin “u” followed by pinyin “en”.
s Same as English but with tongue tip slightly forward. ua Pinyin “u” followed by a pinyin “a”.
x Same as “sh” but with tongue behind lower teeth. uan Pinyin “u” followed by a pinyin “an”.
j Same as English “j” but with tongue behind lower teeth. uai Pinyin “u” followed by a pinyin “ai”.
q Same as “ch” but with tonuge behind lower teeth. uang Pinyin “u” followed by a pinyin “ang”.
ia Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “a”.
ie Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “e”.
iao Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “ao”.
iu Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “ou”.
ian Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “an”.
in Pronounced like the “in” in “machine”.
iang Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “ang”.
ing Pronounced like the “ing” in “sing”.
iong Pinyin “y” followed by a pinyin “ong”.

Conclusion

Hopefully this chart has helped you to become familiar with the pinyin system. If you still feel a little shaky on the concepts, don’t worry. We will include a Pinyin Cheatsheet on most pages on this site.