Tough sounds x-sh-, q-ch-, j-zh-

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The x-, q-, and -j initials are new and foreign. When mixed with the sh-, ch-, and zh- initials, the results can be downright brutal. Pretty much every learner struggles with these. Practice the following words and phrases to be sure that you've got a good handle on these tough sounds.

Pronunciation Tips for x-sh-, q-ch-, j-zh- (A2)

For most learners, what makes these combinations hard is the addition of the "j" "q" and "x" sounds. Those are the super "foreign" sounds.

A reminder from our "j," "q," and "x" page:


To learn to make these new sounds, start with the pinyin "x-" sound. You may have heard that it's pronounced like English "sh" or seen it written as the somewhat confusing "hs." Neither of these is particularly helpful; you just have to learn to make a new sound.

To make the pinyin "x-" sound, try to make a "sh" sound while the tip of your tongue is down, below your lower front teeth. The middle of your tongue should rise to the roof of your mouth to make the sound. This should feel weird, because this is not something you normally do in English.

One way you know you're making the "x-" sound correctly is that you can comfortably smile while you make it, whereas it's a bit difficult to do this with the "sh" sound. A good syllable to practice the "x-" sound with first is "xi". Then move on to the super-common word "xièxie" (meaning "thank you").

If you haven't yet learned to properly make the "j" "q" and "x" sounds, you gotta do it. Now is the time. Stop delaying. Even if you can't really hear much of a difference between the "sh-" and "x-" sounds, native Chinese speakers totally can. You will never have really good Chinese pronunciation until you learn to properly make these sounds.

Tough Sound Words: x-sh-, q-ch-, j-zh- (A2)

The words in the following table are designed to give you a good pronunciation workout. Practice them on your own and practice them with your teacher.

Audio Chinese Pinyin English
记住 jìzhù to memorize
中间 zhōngjiān in the middle
几种 jǐ zhǒng how many kinds; several kinds
出去 chūqù to go out
汽车 qìchē automobile
常去 cháng qù to often go
上学 shàngxué to start school, to go to school
学生 xuéshēng student
上下 shàng-xià up and down; get on and get off
水煮鱼 shuǐzhǔyú Sichuan poached sliced fish in hot chili oil

If these are too easy for you, don't forget that we also have these same sounds at a more challenging intermediate (B1) level.

Tough Sound Video Practice: x-sh-, q-ch-, j-zh- (A2)

Sources and further reading

More sources and other links coming soon...