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Learning Chinese Pronunciation Part 1

The focus of this lesson is to learn about Chinese pronunciation.

Each Chinese character can be said to be a syllable. These syllables can be a stand-alone word, or they can be grouped together to make compound words. Each syllable, or character, in Chinese is made up of an initial and a final sound. These intials and finals can be combined to make up around 400 unique word sounds in Chinese.

Chinese uses a phonetic system called ‘pinyin’ to aid learners of Chinese in pronunciation. This pinyin uses Romanized letters to represent the sounds of Chinese. There are 21 initials in Chinese. This is the sound the word starts with. There are about 38 combinations of final sounds.

Some of the letters used to represent the sounds of Chinese are similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts. However there are some that are different. The ones that give some people trouble sometimes are as follows:

Z - the difference with the english ‘z’ is that this sound is made with your tongue touching the back of your upper teeth. This results in a more ‘dz’ sound.

C - sometimes confused with the ‘z’ sound, the ‘c’ is aspirated whereas the ‘z’ is not. Aspirated means that you let air out when producing this sound.

Zh -to make this sound the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge. It has a similar sound to the English ‘j’, but the retroflexive nature makes it much thicker.

CH - is similar to the English ‘Ch’ however the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge, as it is in the ‘zh’.

SH - is similar to the English ’sh’ however the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge, as it is in the ‘zh’ and ‘ch’.

X - it also seems similar to the English ’sh’ but it is in fact produced quite differently. You raise your tongue up and let the air squeeze out.

Q - it is in the range of the English ‘ch’ but different in that it is also produced in the same way as the x. you raise your tongue and let the air squeeze out.

R - this one is tough. Nothing like the English ‘r’, don’t be fooled by the use of the letter ‘r’. again, curled tongue, a zee-ish phenomenon.

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