How to pronounce Chongqing, one of China's major cities

Some quick and dirty tips, as well as an in-depth explanation

Chongqing
Wikimedia Commons

In this article, we will look at how to pronounce Chongqing (重庆), one of China's major cities. It's located in South-west China (see map) and has almost 30 million inhabitants, although much less live in the urban centre itself. The city is important because of it's manufacturing and is also a regional transportation hub.

In this article, I will first give you a quick and dirty way of how to pronounce the name if you just want to have a rough idea how to pronounce it.

Then I’ll go through a more detailed description, including analysis of common learner errors.

The quick and dirty way of pronouncing Chongqing

Most Chinese cities have names with two characters (and therefore two syllables). There are abbreviations, but these are rarely used in spoken language (the abbreviation for Chongqing is 渝. Here's brief description of the sounds involved: 

Listen to the pronunciation here while reading the explanation. Repeat yourself!

  1. Chong - Pronounce a shorter "choo" in "choose" plus "-ng"
  2. Qing - Pronounce as "chi-" in "chin" plus "-ng" in "sing"

If you want want to have a go at the tones, they are rising and falling respectively.

Note: This pronunciation is not correct pronunciation in Mandarin. It represents my best effort to write the pronunciation using English words. To really get it right, you need to learn some new sounds (see below).

Pronouncing names in Chinese

Pronouncing names in Chinese can be very hard if you haven't studied the language; sometimes it's hard even if you have.

Many letters used to write the sounds in Mandarin (called Hanyu Pinyin) don't match the sounds they describe in English, so simply trying to read a Chinese name and guess the pronunciation will lead to many mistakes.

Ignoring or mispronouncing tones will just add to the confusion. These mistakes add up and often become so serious that a native speaker would fail to understand.

 Read more about how to pronounce Chinese names.

How to actually pronounce Chongqing

If you study Mandarin, you should never ever rely on English approximations like those above. Those are meant for people who don't intend to learn the language! You have to understand the orthography, i.e. how the letters relate to the sounds. There are many traps and pitfalls in Pinyin you have to be familiar with.

Now, let's look at the two syllables in more detail, including common learner errors:

  1. Chóng (second tone) - The initial is a retroflex, aspirated, affricate. What does that mean? It means that the tongue should feel like the tongue is slightly curled backwards as when saying "right", that there is a small stop (a t-sound, but still pronounced with the described tongue position) followed by a hissing sound (such as when urging someone to be quiet: "Shhh!") and that there should be a sharp puff of air on the stop. The final is tricky in two regards. First, English doesn't really have a short vowel in this position. It's reasonably close to "choose" but should be short. Second, the nasal "-ng" should be more nasal and further back. Dropping you jaw usually helps.
  2. Qìng (fourth tone) - The initial here is the only tricky part. "q" is an aspirated affricate, which means that it's similar to the "ch" above, but with a different tongue position. The tongue tip should be down, lightly touching the teeth ridge behind the lower teeth. "-ing" should have the same nasal as above, too, but with an "i" and an optional schwa (roughly the vowel sound in English "the") inserted after the "i" and before the nasal.

    The are some variations for these sounds, but Chongqing (重庆) can be written like this in IPA:

    [ʈʂʰuŋ tɕʰjəŋ]

    Note that both sounds have stops (the "t") and that both have aspiration (the superscript "h").

    Conclusion

    Now you know how to pronounce Chongqing (重庆) . Did you find it hard? If you’re learning Mandarin, don't worry; there aren't that many sounds. Once you’ve learnt the most common ones, learning to pronounce words (and names) will become much easier!