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Easy sounds

Although you cannot take for granted that the letters that make up pinyin sound like they do in English, the good news is that many of them do. So before learning about which pinyin letters make crazy new sounds in Mandarin Chinese, it's a good idea to learn the letters that make more familiar sounds. These are the "easy sounds."

The "easy sounds" listed here may not sound exactly like their English counterparts, but they're pretty close. So if you're a beginner, you don't need to worry too much about mispronouncing the following sounds:

  • b- sounds roughly like the English "b" sound, but it is voiceless in Chinese, which means that it might sound a little like a "p" to you. Don't worry; with enough exposure you'll get used to it. Beginners can get away with an English "b" sound.
  • p- sounds just like the English "p" sound. Perfect!
  • m- sounds just like the English "m" sound. Marvelous!
  • f- sounds just like the English "f" sound. Freebie!
  • d- sounds roughly like the English "d" sound. This is also voiceless in Chinese, which means that it might sound a little like a "t" to you. Beginners can get away with an English "d" sound.
  • t- sounds just like the English "t" sound. Terrific!
  • n- sounds just like the English "n" sound. Nice!
  • l- sounds just like the English "l" sound. Lovely!
  • s- sounds just like the English "s" sound. Sweet!
  • g- sounds roughly like the English "g" sound. This is voiceless as well in Chinese, it might sound a little like a "k" to you. Beginners can get away with an English "g" sound.
  • k- sounds just like the English "k" sound. Killer!
  • h- sometimes sounds pretty much like the English "h" sound, but other times a bit raspy, similar to the throaty sound in the word "chutzpah." This variation is natural, and both versions are OK. So you're fine just making the regular "h" sound that you're familiar with.

You will see these "easy sounds" on the left side pinyin chart, but you'll want to learn a vowel or two before you can practice actual syllables. The next part of this guide covers your first pinyin vowel: the "a" vowel.