Pinyin Tutorial I – Initials

Introduction

  • Pinyin, or more formally Hanyu Pinyin (汉语拼音), is an alphabet (romanization) system developed in China back in the 50’s.
  • Hanyu means the Chinese Language, and Pinyin means “phonetics”.
  • Pinyin is quite close to the English pronunciation system where a Chinese syllable can be composed of an initial(声母)(consonant) and final(韵母)(vowel).
  • Pinyin is generally used in dictionaries and Chinese language textbooks. In addition, the mastery of the Pinyin system makes Chinese word-processing (IME) much easier.
  • In short, mastering the Pinyin is the foundation for successful learning of the Chinese language.
  • Let’s start with initial

Initials

  1. An Initial is a consonant (excluding y and w)
  2. Always at the beginning of a syllable, it cannot exists by itself
  3. In total there are 21 Initials in Chinese:
  4. b
    p
    m
    f
    d
    t
    n
    l
    g
    k
    h
    j
    q
    x
    z
    c
    s
    zh
    ch
    sh
    r
  5. m, f, n, l, h and sh are pronounced as in English.
  6. d like “d” in “bed” (unaspirated)
    j like “g” in “genius” (unaspirated)
    z like “ds” in “beds”
    zh like “j” in “job”
    b like “p” in “spin” (unaspirated)
    g a soft unaspirated “k” sound
    x like “sh” in “sheep” but with the corners of the lips drawn back
    r somewhat like “r” in “rain”

    Particular attention should be paid to the pronunciation of the so-called “aspirated” consonants. It is necessary to breath heavily after the consonant is pronounced.
    p like “p” in “pope”
    t like “t” in “tap”
    k like “k” in “kangaroo”
    q harder than “ch” in “cheap”
    c like “ts” in “cats”
    ch (tongue curled back, aspirated)

    Distinction between certain initials:
    b/p    d/t   g/k    j/q    z/c   zh/ch

All initials:

b   p   m   f
d   t   n   l
g   k   h
j   q   x
z   c   s
zh   ch   sh   r

More references:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin

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16 thoughts on “Pinyin Tutorial I – Initials”

  1. Thank you! I’ve been looking all over on sites that supposedly “help” you learn Chinese, but none so far have been as good as this. I use Google Translate, and I’m having a bit of a problem with the pronunciation (I’m reading it phonetically) because the speaker sounds the words differently than how I’m saying it. Good Job!

  2. nin hao Min Min laoshi. Nin hao ma?
    I’ve been working with pinyinchart while i came accross these pinyin syllable: yo, yuo, fiao and tei. I’m being do search for their meaning without succed. Would please help me with their meaning .
    Xiexie nin.

      1. thanks for your reply
        I’ve those pinyin from this tool
        http://www.learnchineseeveryday.com/tools/pinyin-chart.php
        In that page you have fiao4 in the second page for pinyin start with F. You also have yo1 and yo and yuo in the page of pinyin start with Y
        also in this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin_table, these pinyins are mentioned
        I’ve got also this meaning “覅 (fiào) means ‘unwanted’ or ‘unnecessary’.” in this page
        http://eastasiastudent.net/china/mandarin/unusual-syllables#2-fiao-1-character
        sincerly yours
        toto djadjame

        1. Hi toto,
          I have tried Google IME
          For yo, we have
          哟,唷,喲,嚛
          For fiao,

          For tei,

          However, except 哟,唷, these few words are seldom used in our daily conversation

  3. usually i’ll just lurk here and learn but min min i have a question for you. i heard the r sound is pronounced differently in different parts of chin, is that true? and have you already covered it in another page aside from this one? love your website by the way it is very helpful and aided me with learning chinese tremendously.

      1. No i have not yet downloaded the ebook, but i eventually will download it especially to see how it covers pronounciation of certain letters like r.if it’s covered there i will look into it when i have a enough time to download it.

    1. Hi germaine,
      Thanks for downloading the ebook. If you have any question about Pinyin, please feel free to ask. I hope the Pinyin ebook is helpful in learning Chinese.

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