Pronunciation points by level

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AllSet Learning has developed this list of pronunciation points, organized by level, to aid in tracking learner progress. Many textbooks and teachers treat pronunciation as something that is learned at the beginning of one's studies and "completed." Unfortunately, acquisition of tones and many other features of Chinese pronunciation takes much longer than a few weeks, so it's better to take a long-term approach to pronunciation in your studies.

A1 Pronunciation Points

A1 Pronunciation Points (Beginner / HSK 1): for absolute beginners (be sure to check out the pinyin chart!)

Pinyin Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
A1 Introduction to pinyin Some background information about pinyin for absolute beginners. HINT: pinyin was not created as a pronunciation guide for foreigners!
A1 Pinyin chart Learn all the sounds and individual syllables that make up all the words in Mandarin Chinese.
A1 Pinyin quick start guide
1. Easy sounds Not all sounds in Mandarin are hard! This part covers "p", "m", "f", "d", "t", "n", "l", "s", "g", "k", "h".
2. The "a" vowel The vowel "a" in Mandarin isn't too hard, so let's start with that one. Now you can make actual syllables!
3. The "e" vowel The letter "e" in pinyin can represent several different vowel sounds, and it's important to learn them all.
4. The "i" vowel In pinyin, "i" makes more than just one sound. Be sure to learn in what syllables it sounds different.
5. The "o" and "u" vowels The "o" and "u" vowels in Chinese aren't quite as straightforward as one might hope, and the two get confused a bit, so it's useful to learn them together.
6. The "c" and "z" sounds The letters "c" and "z" in pinyin can totally throw you off at first, but the sounds they make are not too difficult for most learners.
7. The "ch" "sh" and "zh" sounds These similar sounds shouldn't be too hard for speakers of English, but it's important to pay close attention to the vowel sounds that they combine with.
8. The "r" sound This is probably an "r" sound unlike any you've ever made before. It doesn't exist in English, but it can be learned!
9. The "ü" vowel Not the same as "u", the "ü" sound might be familiar if you speak French or German, but it doesn't exist in English.
10. The "j" "q" and "x" sounds The "j", "q", and "x" sounds are all foreign to speakers of English, but absolutely essential to master for good Chinese pronunciation.
A1 Pinyin gotchas There are certain seemingly inconsistent things about pinyin that trip everybody up at first. Here they all are, together in one convenient list.

Tone Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
A1 Four tones There are four main tones in Mandarin Chinese. Your quest to master them starts here!
A1 Neutral tone Whether you think of it as "the fifth tone," or "the zeroth tone," it's a little tonal trick you'll need to know.

A2 Pronunciation Points

A2 Pronunciation Points (Elementary / HSK 2): for those with roughly one semester of formal Chinese study (this section is still being actively developed and expanded)

Pinyin Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
A2 Erhua This is the "Beijinger R sound" that gives Mandarin Chinese its pirate flavor!
A2 Pinyin spelling rules

Tone Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
A2 Tone change rules If you know all 4 tones (plus the neutral tone), then it's time to learn the three big rules about when these tones regularly change.
1. Tone changes for third tones For example: 你好 (níhǎo), 很好 (hén hǎo), 可以 (kéyǐ)
2. Tone changes for "bu" For example: 不是 (bú shì), 不对 (bú duì), 不要 (bú yào)
3. Tone changes for "yi" For example: 一个 (yígè), 一样 (yíyàng), 一起 (yìqǐ)

B1 Pronunciation Points

B1 Pronunciation Points (Intermediate / HSK 3): for those with roughly one year of formal Chinese study (this section is still being actively developed and expanded)

Pinyin Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
B1 Rare syllable You won't find these in our chart, but if you're an intermediate learner, it's time to let you in on the little secret of these syllables' existence.

Tone Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
B1 Tone pairs It's not enough to know the tones; you need to PRACTICE them in each combination, until it becomes second nature.
1. Tone pair 1-1 For example: 今天 (jīntiān), 星期 (xīngqī), 咖啡 (kāfēi)
2. Tone pair 1-2 For example: 突然 (tūrán), 加油 (jiāyóu), 空调 (kōngtiáo)
3. Tone pair 1-3 For example: 多少 (duōshǎo), 喝酒 (hējiǔ), 机场 (jīchǎng)
4. Tone pair 1-4 For example: 因为 (yīnwèi), 说话 (shuōhuà), 工作 (gōngzuò)
5. Tone pair 1-0 For example: 舒服 (shūfu), 清楚 (qīngchu), 知识 (zhīshi)
6. Tone pair 2-1 For example: 昨天 (zuótiān), 明天 (míngtiān), 回家 (huíjiā)
7. Tone pair 2-2 For example: 平时 (píngshí), 流行 (liúxíng), 无聊 (wúliáo)
8. Tone pair 2-3 For example: 如果 (rúguǒ), 苹果 (píngguǒ), 朋友 (péngyǒu)
9. Tone pair 2-4 For example: 还是 (háishì), 然后 (ránhòu), 不错 (bùcuò)
10. Tone pair 2-0 For example: 便宜 (piányi), 麻烦 (máfan)
11. Tone pair 3-1 For example: 已经 (yǐjīng), 喜欢 (xǐhuan), 手机 (shǒujī)
12. Tone pair 3-2 For example: 很忙 (hěn máng), 以前 (yǐqián), 有名 (yǒumíng)
13. Tone pair 3-3 For example: 你好 (nǐhǎo), 很好 (hěn hǎo), 有点 (yǒudiǎn)
14. Tone pair 3-4 For example: 以后 (yǐhòu), 早饭 (zǎofàn), 好看 (hǎokàn)
15. Tone pair 3-0 For example: 走吧 (zǒu ba), 跑啊 (pǎo a), 买了 (mǎi le)
16. Tone pair 4-1 For example: 上班 (shàngbān), 蛋糕 (dàngāo), 一些 (yīxiē)
17. Tone pair 4-2 For example: 上学 (shàngxué), 问题 (wèntí), 去年 (qùnián)
18. Tone pair 4-3 For example: 一起 (yīqǐ), 下雨 (xiàyǔ), 电脑 (diànnǎo)
19. Tone pair 4-4 For example: 现在 (xiànzài), 重要 (zhòngyào), 电话 (diànhuà)
20. Tone pair 4-0 For example: 去吧 (qù ba), 到了 (dào le), 漂亮 (piàoliang)
B1 Additional tone change rules

Other Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
B1 Accent China is a fascinating land full of variety. That includes all kinds of different accents!

B2 Pronunciation Points

B2 Pronunciation Points (Upper Intermediate / HSK 4): for those with roughly two years of formal Chinese study (this section is not started yet)

Tone Points

Level Pronunciation Point Summary
B2 Pronunciation variant What happens when a word has a certain pinyin reading in the dictionary, but is often pronounced differently by native speakers? It ends up on this list!
B2 Advanced tone change rules Although you probably know the three main tone change rules, there are a few more obscure ones that more advanced learners may want to tackle.

Notes on the Levels

AllSet Learning has adopted the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which uses the "A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2" system, corresponding to levels beginner through advanced. These levels also have equivalents in the ACTFL (American) standards.