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Learning Chinese Pronunciation Part 2

There are only six vowels used in pinyin, but they are combined to produce a lot of different sounds. we have a pinyin chart with clickable mp3 records of each of the sounds, to aid you in perfecting the pronunciation in the full lesson on

One of the more difficult Chinese vowel is the ‘u’ vowel sound. This ‘u’ sound is quite a nasal sound. It is said to be similar to the French ‘u’ and is made by pronouncing an ‘i’ when rounding the mouth.

Chinese has four different tones they are, five including the neutral tone:

  • The first tone is high and steady: ‘mā’
  • The second tone is a rising tone: ‘má’ and has intonation similar that that used in English to indicate a question, i.e. ‘huh?’
  • The third tone dips down slightly in the middle: ‘mǎ’. You can feel a slight vibration at the base of your throat when you are doing it correctly.
  • The fourth tone is falling, and falling fast. Sounds slightly angrier than the rest. ‘mà’.
  • Then we have the Switzerland of tones, being the neutral tone. Which is a relief, because it’s just… well. Neutral. No tone. ‘ma’.

There are some special circumstances that occur with certain combinations of tones that are together in a compound word or sentence. When two or more third tone characters occur in a row, the last of these remains a third tone, while the one(s) before it change to the second tone. If there are more than two third tones in a row, the final third tone in each series
remains a third tone, while the rest become 2nd tone.

Learning Chinese Pronunciation Part 1

The focus of this lesson is to learn about Chinese pronunciation.

Each Chinese character can be said to be a syllable. These syllables can be a stand-alone word, or they can be grouped together to make compound words. Each syllable, or character, in Chinese is made up of an initial and a final sound. These intials and finals can be combined to make up around 400 unique word sounds in Chinese.

Chinese uses a phonetic system called ‘pinyin’ to aid learners of Chinese in pronunciation. This pinyin uses Romanized letters to represent the sounds of Chinese. There are 21 initials in Chinese. This is the sound the word starts with. There are about 38 combinations of final sounds.

Some of the letters used to represent the sounds of Chinese are similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts. However there are some that are different. The ones that give some people trouble sometimes are as follows:

Z – the difference with the english ‘z’ is that this sound is made with your tongue touching the back of your upper teeth. This results in a more ‘dz’ sound.

C – sometimes confused with the ‘z’ sound, the ‘c’ is aspirated whereas the ‘z’ is not. Aspirated means that you let air out when producing this sound.

Zh -to make this sound the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge. It has a similar sound to the English ‘j’, but the retroflexive nature makes it much thicker.

CH – is similar to the English ‘Ch’ however the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge, as it is in the ‘zh’.

SH – is similar to the English ‘sh’ however the tip of the tongue is raised against the back of the gum ridge, as it is in the ‘zh’ and ‘ch’.

X – it also seems similar to the English ‘sh’ but it is in fact produced quite differently. You raise your tongue up and let the air squeeze out.

Q – it is in the range of the English ‘ch’ but different in that it is also produced in the same way as the x. you raise your tongue and let the air squeeze out.

R – this one is tough. Nothing like the English ‘r’, don’t be fooled by the use of the letter ‘r’. again, curled tongue, a zee-ish phenomenon.

Learn Chinese Direct from Beijing with

Dear Chinese Students,

Today we’re pleased to announce the launch of This is a joint project between Popup Chinese and the folks at Innovative Language Learning.

If you’re familiar with the Innovative Language approach to teaching, you’ll know the strength of their materials has always been tight, step-by-step progressive lessons for beginners. At Popup Chinese, we’ve historically geared our materials towards more advanced students, so when we had the chance to cooperate with the Innovative team and work together to build something that could take advantage of the powerful system they’ve already built we leapt at the chance, and began work designing a focused and stepwise program for Mandarin instruction.

Although a few hints leaked out (*ahem*), for the past few months we’ve worked somewhat stealthily to build the best team possible for the task. You’ll find our progressive beginner lessons hosted by none other than the famous Frank Fradella. Other big names on our roster are Amber Scorah and of course everyone on our existing team like Echo Yao and Brendan O’Kane. This is a great team and I can say with confidence I’ve never worked with a stronger one. With more than 100 lessons on the new site, our content is off to a good start too. As Frank said once after a marathon recording session, “our first twenty lessons here teach more than I learned in a whole year studying elsewhere.”

We think this is a great step forward and look forward to hearing your feedback and thoughts as well. It is definitely a major step forward for Chinese language education online. There’s never been a better time to learn Chinese, or a better way to learn it online. Regardless of whether you’re an advanced independent learner or a total newbie, we hope you’ll enjoy the work we’ll be doing both here and at ChineseClass101. Thanks for your support, and 加油 everyone!

Best from Beijing,

David Lancashire

Best from New York,

Amber Scorah