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Mandarin Pronunciation Guide

mandarin Chinese online

mandarin Chinese online

Tones: Think about English if it is your mother tongue.  How would you pronounce “man” in these four sentences?   

(1) “Māān ooh màn, is it hot!   (2) “What did you see, mán?  (3) “Come on, mǎn, you can do it!  (4) “Màn! That’s hot.

These instances of ‘man’ are spoken with different tones.  In English, tones change the ‘mood.’  In Chinese, tones change the meaning.
There are four tones in Chinese:  1st high, 2nd rising, 3rd  dipping, and 4th falling.
You can pay attention to them while you are learning at first, but don’t expect to master them.  That will take about a year. No tones in Chinese music;  listeners figure it out meaning by context.  So, most of the time, you will be understood in context.  The tones of the words in lesson one are:

1stmandarin Chinese online 1

2ndmandarin Chinese online 2

3rdmandarin Chinese online 3

4thmandarin Chinese online 4






(horse) (scold) ma (question marker)



huí (return) (five) èr  (two) ge (measure word)

sān  (three)


(pick up) (me) (four)  



lái (come) hǎo (good) shì (is)  



  gěi (give) zài (at)  



jiàn (meet)  



hěn (very)

xiè (thanks)



For more Mandarin Click by Click tone practice, to go to:

learn mandarin online

Here are some more good links if you want more practice distinquishing tones. To do well, do not just listen. First repeat the sound as exactly as you can and THEN choose which tone you believe you heard. Have fun.


Introduction to Hanyu Pinyin, the Chinese Alphabetic-Phonetic  System

Below are the sounds in Hanyu Pinyin.  Native speakers of English should focus on those marked in red because they are the ones that are especially difficult to say or recognize easily when reading the new writing system. The Chinese examples have sound files.


Initial Consonants

   Medial and Final Vowels and Consonants


   Medial and Final Vowels and Consonants










 English  Approximation

 Chinese  Example

 English  Approximation





 b    sp

 bái  (white)

 a       father

 wán     (play)

 ua      waft

 h     (picture)

 p    papa

 pà   (afraid)

 o       haul

 wǒ        (i, me)

 uo      woman

 m     (touch)

 m   man

 mā  (mother)

 e       honey

 wén     (smell)

 uai     wife

 kuài     (fast)

 f     food

 fù     (pay)

 i        machine

 nǐ        (you)

 uan    poo on

 duǎn    (short)

 d    better

 dà   (big)

 u       rude; shoe
 ü       retrieve

 shū      (book)
 yǔ **    (rain)

 un       went

 dùn      (stew)

 t     tot

 tā     (he/her)

 er      error

 èr        (two)

 uang  poo ahng

 huáng (yellow)

 n    knee

 nǐ    (you)

 ai       i

 tài       (too)

 ue      ü +eh

 Y     (month)

 l     lou

 lù     (road)

 ao      now

 nǎo     (brain)

 uan    ü+an

 yuǎn    (far)

 g    sky risqué

 gěi  (give)

 an      fan

 fàn      (rice)

 un      ü + n

 Yún      (cloud)

 k    Kit Kat

 kàn  (look)

 ang    gong

 tāng    (soup)


 h    honey

 hěn  (very)

 ei       eight bay

 bēi      (cup)


 j      jeep*

 jī      (chicken)

 en      omen

 mén    (door)

 q    cheap*

 qì      (angry)

 eng    sung

 děng   (wait)

 x     sheep*

 xǐ     (wash)

 ou      dough

 dōu     (all)

 z     reads

 zài    (again)

 ong    ou+ng

 tòng    (pain)

 c     it’s

 cài    (veggy)

 ia       yah

 j        (home)

 s     sand

 sān   (three)

 ie       yeah

 x      (thanks)

 ch   church  

 che   (car)

 iao     yowl

 piào    (ticket)

 zh    large

 zhè   (here)

 iu        you'll

 x       (rest)

 sh   shrub

 shū   (book)

 ian      yen

 nián    (year)

 r      leisure

 rén   (person)

 in        in

 nín       (you)

 y      you

  yán    (salt)
  yī       (one)

 iang   yuk +  wrong

 xiǎng   (think)

 w     way

  wǔ     (five)

 ing      sing

 tīng      (listen)



 iong    jung***

 qióng   (poor)



* after / y, j,q,x /, / i /  is pronounced like machine and /u/ is pronounced / ü/.  After /z, c, s, zh, and  sh/,  /i / is pronounced as in “s i t”.  After /zh,sh/, the / i / is pronounced /-r/.      Ji  zhi(r)     xi  shi(r).

**while you are saying ‘you’, round your lips like you are whistling or blowing through a straw. You will get the /ü/ sound.  It is written with /u/ only in pinyin and only comes after  y, j, q, and x.
** *pronounced the same way you pronounce the name of the famous psychologist, Jung.
****In Beijing 'w' and 'v' are in linguistic free variation, meaning that to the people there the two are the same sound. Therefore, if you hear a 'v,' just interpret it as 'w.'
*****The pronunication of 'a' changes quite a bit. When it follow 'i', 'ü', 'x', 'q', 'j', or 'y', it may sound more like 'e'. If it follows 'u', not 'ü', it may sound more like 'ah.'
Here is a great link to an American professor, Eric Shepherd, who not only speaks great Mandarin but performs it with a Shandong accent as well.

Pronunciation Exercises

Here are some confusing groups.  Practice them a little more before you begin. They have sound files.
Introduction Video          
1) Tones Video          
2) s   sh   x  Video a  b sān
shān xian   (three, mountain, before)
3) t   s  c  ch Video a  b tūn sūn cūn chūn (swallow, grandchild, village, spring)
4) z   zh    j Video a  b zǎo zhǎo  jiǎo   (good morning, look for, foot)
5) y    j    q    x Video a  b yān  jiān qiān xiān (tobacco, pan fry, 1000, before)
6) zh    r  sh Video zhù shù   (live at, enter, tree)
7) f     h Video a  b     (pay, household)
8) no-i     i Video a  b ào yào     (arrogant, want)
9) ai    ei Video a  b bǎi běi     (100, north)
10) iu    ui Video a  b diū duī     (throw away, pile)
11) ou   uo Video a  b dōu duō     (all, many)
12) ia   ie Video a  b  jiā jiē     (home, street)
13) an     ang     uang Video a  b gān gāng guāng   (dry, steel, light)
14) en   eng Video a  b fēn fēng     (divide, wind)
15) ang    ong Video a  b háng hóng     (row, red)
16) iang   iong Video a  b xiāng xiōng     (fragrant, fierce)
17) yu   yun  yue   yuan Video a  b  c yù  yùn yuè yuàn (meet, transport, month, branch of government)
18) ua   ui    uai  Video huà huì huài   (language, can, broken)


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