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Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation

Arch Chinese offers Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Table, Mandarin Chinese Tone Drill and Mandarin
Chinese Pinyin Converter to help you study and practice Mandarin Chinese pronunciation.

Unlike English, Chinese is not a phonetic language. The pronunciation is not related to the writing of
Chinese characters. Pinyin, the romanization system for Mandarin Chinese, is used to teach Chinese
school children and foreign learners the standard pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese.

The fundamental elements in Pinyin are initials and finals, which represent the segmental phonemic
portion of the language. Initials are initial consonants, while finals are the combinations of medials
(semivowels coming before the vowel), the nucleus vowel, and coda (final vowel or consonant).

Chinese is a tonal language. There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese (Click the tone examples to hear
the tone differences):

1. The first tone: flat tone, marked by a macron on top of the Pinyin vowel, such as in m (,
mother)

2. The second tone: rising tone, marked by an acute accent on top of the Pinyin vowel, such
as in m (, numb)

3. The third tone: falling-rising tone, marked by a caron (or rounded breve) on top of the Pinyin
vowel, such as in m (, horse)

4. The fourth tone: falling tone, marked by a grave accent on top of the Pinyin vowel, such
as in m (, to scold)

The tone marks are important for correct pronunciation of Mandarin syllables. A common convention is
to use a tone number at the end of individual syllables to mark their tones.

Certain tones change depending on what tone follows. When a third tone follows a third tone, the first
syllable is said almost as a second tone, such as ni3 hao3(hello). As an example, the character (yi1,
one) is pronunced as a second tone before a fourth tone and as a fourth tone before the other tones. The
character (bu4, not) also changes its pronunctiation depending on its place in the sentence or the
syllable which follows it.

An umlaut is placed over the letter u when it occurs after the initials l and n in order to represent the
sound y. Tonal markers are added on top of the umlaut, as in l and n. v is commonly used instead by
convention.

In Mandarin Chinese, there is also a special sandhi for four tones, called neutral tone (toneless). It is
normally pronounced short and light. It occurs on stressless syllables and has a pitch entirely determined
by the tones of adjacent syllables, for examples, b ba (, father), shn me (, what,why).

To help you study Mandarin Chinese pronunciation, the Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Table provides the
complete listing of all Pinyin syllables used in standard Mandarin. An empty cell on the table indicates
that the corresponding syllable does not exist in standard Mandarin. The tone variations of the syllable
will display on the top of the table after you click on a syllable. Click on the tone variations of a syllable
to practice the pronunciation. Not all 4 tones exist for each syllable. The system displays only the tone
variations that exist in standard Mandarin.

Another userful Pinyin tool is the Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Converter, which allows you to convert
Pinyin with tone number notation to Pinyin with tone marks.

Mandarin uses four tones to clarify the meanings of words. Since many characters have the same
sound, tones are used to differentiate words from each other.

The four tones in Mandarin are:

high level first tone

rising second tone

falling rising third tone

falling fourth tone

Pinyin uses either numbers or tone marks to indicate the tones. Here is the word ma with tone
marks:

First tone: ma1 or m

Second tone: ma2 or m

Third tone: ma3 or m

Fourth tone: ma4 or m

The tones are used to determine the meaning of a Mandarin word. So m (horse) is very different
from m (mother).

When learning new vocabulary you must practice both the pronunciation of the word and its
tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences.

The following table has sound clips which allow you to hear the tones. Listen to each tone and try
to mimic it as closely as possible.

The Four Tones of Mandarin

Pinyin Chinese Character Meaning Sound Clip

m mother audio

m hemp audio

m horse audio
m scold audio

Mandarin has four distinct tones which are used to clarify the meaning of words. Proper
use of the tones is essential for speaking and understanding the language.

Tones should be practiced right from the beginning of your Mandarin study. When learning
new vocabulary you must memorize the proper tone, otherwise the word is only half-
learned.

Beside vocabulary development, tones can also be practiced on their own. When doing
these exercises, listen first and then repeat. Listen and repeat many times until you can
mimic the audio files exactly.

Practicing the Four Tones

All Tones First Second Third Fourth

pa p p p p

pi p p p p

pei pi pi pi pi

pai pi pi pi pi