2 Tracks, 3 Levels

Although there are plenty of pronunciation points contained in this wiki, the core content you need to master pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese is contained in our "2 Tracks, 3 Levels" approach.

The 2 tracks for each level are always the Sounds represented by Pinyin (non-tone) and Tones. You need to fully master both tracks (all the way to the end) to have really good, natural pronunciation in Mandarin Chinese.

Beginner Level

If you're an absolute beginner or close to it, this is where you need to focus your efforts.

Learn Pinyin

All beginners need to spend a good chunk of time on pinyin. It's absolutely worthwhile to go through a step-by-step, detailed explanation of pinyin, but if you've already had that, then focus on the pain points that all beginners have. Once you've learned that stuff, you should still spend time on a pinyin chart

Get Familiar with the Four Tones

The four tones are super important, but don't expect to master them after a week. Please do understand, though, that it takes time to really get used to tones and to get to the point where you can reliably differentiate them and even produce them correctly and consistently on your own. This doesn't happen overnight! Be patient, and listen to plenty of audio for the tones.

Elementary Level

After you've been learning Chinese for a while and know your pinyin pretty well, you're not done yet...

Practice the Tough Sounds

"Knowing" your pinyin pretty well doesn't mean that you can accurately pronounce all the sounds of the language every time. That's totally normal! But to get to that point, elementary learners need to routinely practice pronouncing these basic tough sounds that all native speakers of English struggle with. You'll get there!

Master the Tone Change Rules

Pronouncing each of the four tones in isolation is one thing, but putting tones together is quite another. And one of the major factors that contributes to this challenge is the 3 main tone change rules. You need to learn these now, and you need to learn them well. Then they won't trip you up as you focus on mastering all tone pairs later.

Intermediate Level

If only a few weeks of hardcore study were enough to master pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese! It's totally normal to still be working hard at it as an intermediate learner.

Master the Tough Sounds

Hopefully you worked on the "tough sounds" as an elementary learner, but it's time to up the intensity as part of longer combinations to make sure you can really handle words like 出去 (chūqu) and 水煮鱼 (shuǐzhǔyú). Not easy! Nothing to do but dive in and work at the more advanced tough sounds.

Master All the Tone Pairs

If you know your tones and you have the tone change rules down, that's great, but you're not really done until you're comfortable with all 20 possible tone pairs. These demand practice! But once you can get them consistently and bring them into your spoken Chinese, you will have reached a truly impressive level that native speakers will really notice.