The "a" vowel
In series Pinyin quick start guide
The first vowel you want to learn in pinyin is "a." It can combine with all of those easy sounds you already learned in part 1 of this guide, so it's a great place to start.
Pinyin's Main "a" Vowel Sound
Although the "a" sound in Chinese can vary a little bit, and is slightly changed when followed by a "-n" or a "-ng" sound, it should sound more or less consistent in the syllables introduced in this section. Remember that you can click on the sounds in the chart fragment to hear audio.
- -a sounds like the "a" sound in the English words "ah" or "ha" or "father".
- -ai sounds like the "ai" in the English words "Thai" and "aisle".
- -ao sounds pretty much like the word "Tao"/"Dao" which we've imported into English from Chinese, or the "ow" in the English word "how", but with a rather muted “w” sound at the end.
- -an sounds similar to “on” (minus a strong “aw” sound like in “lawn”) but you may also hear a hint of the vowel sound in the English word “can”. This sound doesn't match up to English sounds perfectly, but it's not hard to approximate.
- -ang sounds similar to the "ong" sound in the word "King Kong". Because you have the nasalized "-ng" ending, the "a" vowel changes slightly, but that's not something you should have to worry about too much.
Pinyin Chart Fragment
This is just a part of the full pinyin chart, limited to the sounds we've covered so far.
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Pinyin's Alternate "a" Vowel Sounds
For now, let's move on to the "e" vowel.
Sources and further reading