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Pinyin gotchas

If you're too lazy to read through the whole pinyin quick start guide (but you really should), or maybe if you're just looking to review what you've learned before, you should be well served by this simple list of all the little "gotchas" that confuse people when they first start learning pinyin.

Follow the links for more information.

  1. Pinyin "j-" does not sound like the English letter "j"; it may sound like that to you, but it's actually a whole different sound you have to learn
  2. Pinyin "q-" does not sound like the English letters "q" or "k"; it may sound like the English "ch" sound to you, but it's a whole different sound you have to learn
  3. Pinyin "x-" does not sound like the English "x" or even the "sh" sound; it may sound like the English "sh" sound to you, but it's a whole different sound you have to learn
  4. Pinyin "r-" does not sound like the English "r"; it may sometimes sound like that to you, but it's actually a whole different sound you have to learn
  5. Even though they don't contain the letter "u", pinyin syllables "bo", "po", "mo", "fo", and "wo" rhyme with syllables "duo", "luo", and "suo" (and all those other -uo syllables).
  6. Pinyin "yan" sounds like the English word "yen" (as in "the Japanese yen")
  7. Pinyin "h-" comes in two varieties: "smooth" and "raspy" (both are correct)
  8. Pinyin "r-" comes in two varieties: "smooth" and "buzzy" (both are correct)
  9. Pinyin "ying" comes in two varieties: the southern version ("yi" + "-ng"), and the (more standard) northern version ("yi" + "-eng")
  10. Pinyin "-ui" (as in "dui" or "hui") is actually a "-uei" sound; the "e" is pronounced but not written
  11. Pinyin "-iu" (as in "liu" or "niu") is actually a "-iou" sound; the "o" is pronounced but not written
  12. Pinyin "-un" (as in "lun" or "dun") is actually a "-uen" sound; the "e" is pronounced but not written
  13. Pinyin "e" makes more than one sound: it can sound like English "uh", and also like English "e" (as in "pen")
  14. Pinyin "i" is pronounced pretty consistently like English "ee", except for the syllables "zi, ci, si", "zhi, chi, shi" and "ri"

Note: Some of the information above is not 100% accurate from a phonetic point of view; similar sounds are sometimes lumped together for the benefit of the non-linguist learner, and IPA was consciously avoided (but can be found on our pinyin chart). More detailed linguistic descriptions of the sounds of Mandarin Chinese can be found on other pages on this wiki.

Sources and further reading

Books

  • Sounds of Chinese

Websites