How to pronounce Li Keqiang, China's premier

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

Li Keqiang

In this article, we will look at how to pronounce Li Keqiang (李克强), the  Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. First, I will give you a quick and dirty way if you just want to have a rough idea how to pronounce the name. Then I’ll go through a more detailed description, including analysis of common learner errors.

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.

The quick and dirty way of pronouncing Li Keqiang

Chinese names usually consist of three syllables, with the first being the family name and the last two the personal name. There are exceptions to this rule, but it holds true in a vast majority of cases. Thus, there are three syllables we need to deal with.

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

  1. Li - Pronounce as "lee".
  2. Ke - Pronounce as "cu-" in "curve".
  3. Qiang - Pronounce as "chi-" in "chin" plus "ang-" in "angry".

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

    How to actually pronounce Li Keqiang

    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 three syllables in more detail, including common learner errors:

    1. (third tone) - The "l" is a normal "l" as in English. Note that English has two variants of this sound, one light and one dark. Compare the "l" in "light" and "full". The latter has a darker character and is pronounced farther back (it's velarised). You want the light version here. The "i" in Mandarin is further forward and upward compared to "i" in English. Your tongue tip should be as far up and forward as possible while still pronouncing a vowel!
    2. Ke (fourth tone) - The second syllable is not that hard to pronounced okay, but is hard to get completely right. The "k" should be aspirated. The "e" is similar to the "e" in the English word "the", but farther back. To get it completely right, you should have about the same position as when you say the [o] in Pinyin "po", but your lips shouldn't be rounded. However, it will still be perfectly understandable if you don't go that far.
    1. Qiang (second tone) - The initial here is the only tricky part. "q" is an aspirated affricate, which means that it is the same as Pinyin "x", but with a short stop "t" in front and with aspiration. The tongue tip should be down, lightly touching the teeth ridge behind the lower teeth.

    The are some variations for these sounds, but Li Keqiang (李克强) can be written like this in IPA:

    [lì kʰɤ tɕʰjaŋ]

    Conclusion

    Now you know how to pronounce Li Keqiang (李克强). 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!