How to pronounce Ma Ying-jeou (Ma Ying-jiu)

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

In this article, we will look at how to pronounce Ma Ying-jeou (traditional: 馬英九, simplified: 马英九), which in Hanyu Pinyin would be Mǎ Yīng-jiǔ. Since most students use Hanyu Pinyin for pronunciation, I will henceforth use that. Ma Ying-jiu was president of Taiwan (Republic of China) from 2008 to 2016.

Below, I will first 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 can be very hard if you haven't studied the language; sometimes it's hard even if you have. 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 Ma Ying-jiu

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. Ma - Pronounce as "ma" in "mark"

  2. Ying - Pronounce as "Eng" in "English"

  3. Jiu - Pronounce as "Joe"

    If you want want to have a go at the tones, they are low, high-flat and low (or dipping, see below).

    Note: This pronunciation is not correct pronunciation in Mandarin (though it is reasonably close). 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 Ma Yingjiu

    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. Ma (third tone) - You are probably familiar with this sound if you've studied Mandarin since it's often use to demonstrate tones and is very common. The "m" is easy to get right, but the "a" is harder. In general, the "a" in "mark" is too far back, but the "a" in "man" is too far forward. Somewhere in between. It is a very open sound, too.

    2. Ying (first tone) - As you may have guessed already, this syllable was chosen to represent England and thereby English because they do sound quite similar. The "i" (which is spelt "yi" here) in Mandarin is pronounced with the tongue tip closer to the upper teeth than in English. It's as far up and forward ou can go, basically. It can almost sound like a soft "j" at times. The final can have an optional short schwa (as in English "the"). To get the right "-ng", let your jaw drop and your tongue withdraw.

    1. Jiu (third tone) -This sound is tricky to get right. First, "j" is one of the hardest sounds to get right for native speakers of English. It's a voiceless unaspriated affricate, which means that there should be a soft "t" followed by a hissing sound. This should be pronounced in the same place as "x", which means tongue tip touching the lower teeth ridge. "iu" is an abbreviation of "iou". The "i" tends to overlap with the initial. The remaining part is somewhere in between "jaw" and "joe", but note that the English "j" is quite different from Pinyin "j"..

    The are some variations for these sounds, but Ma Ying-jiu (马英九) can be written like this in IPA:

    ma jəŋ tɕju

    Conclusion

    Now you know how to pronounce Ma Ying -jiu (马英九). 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!