An Insider's Guide to Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation

Learn How to Pronounce Chinese Syllables With This Sound Chart

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One of the first steps in learning Mandarin Chinese is becoming accustomed to the language's pronunciation. Learning how to pronounce Mandarin Chinese helps with speaking and listening skills as it is a tonal language. 

What Makes a Syllable?

The Mandarin language has 21 consonants and 16 vowels. They can be combined together to create more than 400 mono-syllabic sounds. 

There are also four tones that change the meaning of the syllable, so in theory, there are about 1600 possible syllables.

Only around 1000 of these are commonly used, however, which means that Mandarin words actually are more similar than words in English.

Similar to English, you should learn to hear the differences and work on learning how to pronounce Chinese sounds.

Sound Chart

Here is a chart of the 37 sounds of Mandarin with a sound clip of each. Practice these as much as you can—they will provide the foundation learning how to pronounce Mandarin.

The sounds are given in Pinyin, but please be aware that each letter does not represent just one sound. Just like how in English, the vowel "a" is pronounced differently in different cases. For example, compare the more nasally-sounding "ant" to the elongated "a" in "at". There are also many tricky cases you need to learn in Chinese!

PinyinExplanationSound Clip
bsimilar to 'b' in the English 'boat' - softened to approach a 'p' soundaudio
psimilar to 'p' in the English 'top' - with more aspirationaudio
msame as 'm' in the English 'mat'audio
fsame as 'f' in the English 'fat'audio
dsimilar to 'd' in the English 'down' - softened to approach a 't' soundaudio
tsimilar to 't' in the English 'top' - with more aspirationaudio
nsimilar to 'n' in the English 'name'audio
lsimilar to 'l' in the English 'look'audio
gsimilar to 'g' in the English 'go' - softened to approach a 'k' soundaudio
ksimilar to 'k' in the English 'kiss' - with more aspirationaudio
hsimilar to 'h' in the English 'hope' - with a slight rasp as in 'loch'audio
jsimilar to 'j' in the English 'jeep' - tongue is positioned below lower teethaudio
qsimilar to 'ch' in the English 'cheap' - tongue is positioned below lower teethaudio
xsimilar to 'sh' in the English 'sheep' - tongue is positioned below lower teethaudio
zhsimilar to 'j' in the English 'jam'audio
chsimilar to 'ch' in the English 'cheap'audio
shsimilar to 'sh' in the English 'ship'audio
rsimilar to 'z' in the English 'azure'audio
zsame as 'ds' in the English 'woods'audio
csimilar to 'ts' in the English 'bits'audio
ssimilar to 's' in the English 'see'audio
(y)isimilar to 'ee' in the English 'bee'audio
(w)usimilar to 'oo' in the English 'room'audio
yupurse your lips and position the tongue high and forwardsaudio
asimilar to 'ah' in the English 'Ah-hah!'audio
(w)osimilar to 'or' in the English 'bore'audio
esimilar to 'er' in the English 'hers'audio
(y)esimilar to the English 'Yay!'audio
aisimilar to the English 'eye'audio
eisimilar to 'ei' in the English 'weigh'audio
aosimilar to 'au' in the English 'sauerkraut'audio
ousimilar to 'ou' in the English 'dough'audio
ansimilar to 'an' in the English 'fan'audio
ensimilar to 'un' in the English 'under'audio
anga Mandarin 'a' followed by the 'ng' sound like in the English 'sing'audio
enga Mandarin 'e' followed by the 'ng' sound like in the English 'sing'audio
era Mandarin 'e' with the tongue curled backaudio
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Su, Qiu Gui. "An Insider's Guide to Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation." ThoughtCo, Oct. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-pronounce-mandarin-chinese-2279473. Su, Qiu Gui. (2017, October 22). An Insider's Guide to Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-pronounce-mandarin-chinese-2279473 Su, Qiu Gui. "An Insider's Guide to Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-pronounce-mandarin-chinese-2279473 (accessed November 20, 2017).