The "c" and "z" sounds
In series Pinyin quick start guide
Although the sounds that pinyin "c" and "z" make are not actually super foreign to speakers of English, there are two reasons they deserve special attention:
- The sounds "c" and "z" make are not the sounds they make in English
- Pronouncing the "c" and "z" sounds in Chinese is difficult for some learners
If you find these sounds easy, great! Many learners do. Other learners will need to to work on these sounds quite a bit.
Pinyin's "c" Sound
Pinyin's c- initial is simply a "ts" sound. It's like the "ts" you hear in the English words "cats" and "Watson" and "robots". The only thing that makes this Chinese sound challenging is that in English the "ts" always appears in the middle or at the end of words, whereas in Chinese it is an initial sound. For this reason, some learners need some time to get used to making this sound.
Pinyin's "z" Sound
Very similar to the c- initial, the z- initial sounds very similar to an English "dz" sound (although the "d" is not voiced). It's like the "ds" you hear in the English words "kids" and "loads" and "odds". The main thing that makes this Chinese sound challenging is that in English the "dz" always appears in the middle or at the end of words, whereas in Chinese it is an initial sound. For this reason, some learners need some time to get used to making this sound.
If you're still getting the hang of the Mandarin "c-" and "z-" sounds, these are some good syllables to concentrate on initially:
In the chart fragment below, there are no new finals. You just need to familiarize yourself with the combinations c- and z- show up in. One thing worth noting, though, is that the -i final, when combined with c- and z-, makes the same vowel sound that it did in si.
- ci and zi contain an -i sound which is not "ee". It's like the vowel sound in si, which probably sounds most like the "si" in the English word "sit". The syllables zi, ci, si all rhyme.
Pinyin Chart Fragment
This is just a part of the full pinyin chart, limited to the sounds we've covered so far. There are no new finals in the chart below, just new combinations adding in the c- and z- finals, and including the similar s- final for good measure.
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Chart Mode: Audio Links (disables audio)
Now let's move on to the "ch" "sh" and "zh" sounds.
Sources and further reading