Learning Mandarin Chinese

A Step-by-Step Guide

Begin your study of Mandarin Chinese with the four tones. These are the cornerstones to good pronunciation, and once you have mastered them, everything else will fall in place.

There are four Mandarin tones - high and level; rising; falling and rising; and falling. A syllable takes its meaning from both the sound and tone. For example, the syllable "ma" can mean "horse," "mother," "scold," or "hemp" depending on which tone is used.

The Four Mandarin Tones

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language. The way a word or syllable is pronounced changes its meaning. Mastery of the four Mandarin tones is the essential first step to learning this language.

You must be able to pronounce and discern the four Mandarin tones.

These audio lessons will help you master your Mandarin Tones.

The tones must be practiced individually as well as in combination with other tones. The following audio exercises present all the various combinations of tones.

  • Combining Tones - Exercise One
  • Combining Tones - Exercise Two
  • Combining Tones - Exercise Three
  • Combining Tones - Exercise Four

Test your knowledge of the Four Tones with this audio quiz:

  • Mandarin Tone Quiz

Mandarin Pronunciation Guide

There are 37 unique sounds in Mandarin Chinese - 21 consonants and 16 vowels. This chart has audio files of all 37 sounds along with their Pinyin spellings.

Pinyin Romanization

Pinyin is a way to write Chinese using the Roman (Western) alphabet. It is the most common of many forms of Romanization, and is used in most teaching materials.

Pinyin allows the student of Mandarin to read and write Chinese without using Chinese characters. This allows students to concentrate on spoken Mandarin before tackling the formidable task of learning Chinese characters.

Pinyin has many pronunciation which are unintuitive to English speakers. It is necessary to study the Pinyin system to avoid pronunciation errors.

Essential Vocabulary

Begin your study of Mandarin Chinese with these essential vocabulary lessons.

Expanding Your Vocabulary

As you progress in your mastery of Mandarin, you will need to learn more vocabulary. These lessons prepare you for particular situations.

Mandarin Grammar

Mandarin grammar is very different from English and other Western languages. Learning how to think in Mandarin will help you become a fluent speaker.

Reading and Writing Chinese Characters

The Chinese writing system is the hardest part of learning Mandarin. You must learn about 2,000 Chinese characters to read a newspaper. Here are some resources to get you started.