How to pronounce "thank you" in Chinese

How to pronounce "xiexie" without sounding like a tourist

Young tourist checking guide book in Hong Kong street
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Being able to thank someone is one of the first things we learn to say in another language, and the word 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie” therefore appears in the first chapter of almost all beginner textbooks in Chinese. This word is very versatile and can be used in most situations where you want to thank someone, so treating it as a direct equivalent of the English ”thank you” works well most of the time. But how do you pronounce it?

How to Pronounce 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie”

Even if the word 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie” often appears in the first chapter of most textbooks, it certainly isn't easy to pronounce, especially if you haven't had time to internalize Hanyu Pinyin yet, which is the most common way of writing the sounds of Mandarin with the Latin alphabet. Using Pinyin to learn is good, but you should be aware of some of the problems involved. There are two things you need to pay attention to: the initial ”x” and the tones.

How to Pronounce the ”x” Sound in 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie”

The ”x” sound in Pinyin can be tricky to pronounce for beginners, and together with ”q” and ”j” they are probably the hardest initials to get right for native speakers of English. These sounds might sound similar to the English ”sh” and in ”sheep” (in the case of ”x”) or to the English ”ch” in ”cheap” (in the case of ”q”), but that will not give you the right pronunciation.

To pronounce ”x” correctly, do like this:

  1. Lightly press the tip of your tongue against the teeth ridge just behind your lower teeth. This is a very natural position and this is probably what you do when you breathe normally through your mouth.

  2. Now try to say ”s” while still keeping your tongue tip in the same position. To produce the sound, the tongue needs to be raised, but since you can't raise the tip (it shouldn't move), you have to raise the body of the tongue (i.e. farther back than when you say "s").

  1. If you can produce a hissing sound with this tongue position, congratulations, you're now pronouncing ”x” correctly! Try playing around a bit and listen to the sounds you produce. You should be able to hear a difference between this ”x” sound and the ”sh” in ”sheep” as well as a normal "s".

The next part of the syllable, “ie”, usually doesn't cause much trouble for beginners and simply trying to mimic a native speaker as well as you can is likely to be enough. The tones, however, are a different matter, so let's look at how to say “thank you” without sounding like a tourist.

How to Pronounce the Tones in 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie”

Tones are tricky because they aren't used to create different words in English. Of course, we do vary the tone height when we speak English too, but it doesn't change the basic meaning of a word like it does in Chinese. Therefore, it's common for beginners to not be able to hear tones properly, but this is just a matter of practice. The more you expose yourself to tones and the more you practice, the better you will become. Practice makes perfect!

Tones are normally indicated by a mark above the main vowel, but as you can see in the case of 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie”, there is no mark above the second syllable, which means that it's a neutral tone.

The downward mark on the first syllable indicates a fourth tone. Just like the tone mark indicates, the pitch should fall when you pronounce this. The neutral tone should be pronounced more lightly and should also be shorter. You can treat the word 谢谢 (​謝謝) ”xièxie” as a word in English with stress on the first syllable, like “sissy” (I mean for stress purposes, the other sounds are different). There is obvious emphasis on the first syllable and the second one is quite reduced.

Practice Makes Perfect

Simply knowing how 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie” is supposed to be pronounced doesn't mean that you can pronounce it, so you need to practice yourself as well. Good luck!