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M's Chinese Course: Pre-Lesson #2 (Initials)

你好! I'm making a (Mandarin) Chinese course for all you people who want to learn Chinese. I hope that this inspires some of you to learn Chinese! Both simplified and traditional characters will be included, too (along with Pinyin). Now that tones are covered, we can move on to initials! I’ll explain: almost all Chinese syllables are made up of an initial + final. An initial is always a consonant like b, d, ch, sh, etc. And that’s what we’ll be covering. Some Chinese initials have no English equivalent, but I’ll try to explain the pronunciation as well as I can. I'll also provide the IPA.

First of all, the stuff that’s pronounced just like their English equivalents:

  • p (pʰ) = just like the p in “pat”

  • m (m) = just like the m in “mat”

  • f (f) = just like the f in “feel”

  • t (tʰ) = just like the t in “tap”

  • n (n) = just like the n in “nose”

  • l (l) = just like the l in “lead”

  • k (kʰ) = just like the k in “king”

  • s (s) = just like the s in “see”

  • w (w) = just like the w in "water"

  • y (y/ɥ) = just like the y in "yellow" when not before Pinyin "u"; just like the u in French "nuit" when before Pinyin "u"

  • c (tsʰ) = just like the ts in “kits”; pronounced t+s

Next, the stuff that’s pronounced close to their English equivalents:

  • b (p) = like the English p, but without aspiration; like the p in “spy”

  • d (t) = like the English t, but without aspiration; like the t in “sty”

  • g (k) = like the English k, but without aspiration; like the k in “sky”

  • z (ts) = like the English ts, but without aspiration

  • sh (ʂ) = similar to the sh in “shard”, but with your tongue farther back

  • ch (ʈʂʰ) = similar to the ch in “chore”, but with your tongue farther back

  • zh (ʈʂ) = similar to the ch in “chore”, but unaspirated and with your tongue farther back

  • r (ʐ) = similar to the s in “measure”; like the French j, but with your tongue farther back

  • j (tɕʰ)= like the ch in “chore”, but unaspirated and with your tongue near your teeth

  • q (tɕ) = like the ch in “chore”, but with your tongue near your teeth

  • x (ɕ) = like the sh in “shard”, but with your tongue near your teeth

  • h (x) = like the ch in Scottish English “loch”

And that’s it! :)

I highly recommend looking at this chart for more information on how to pronounce Chinese. It’s really useful, and it'll teach you how to make those difficult sounds.

I hope this helped you! I will make the next lesson soon. And if you liked this, please upvote and leave some feedback; I love hearing what you have to say :)


September 3, 2015



'sh', 'ch' are not really the same as English (except possibly Indian English pronunciation) - the tongue should be farther back so that the tip is about level with the ridge at the end of the hard palate. 'zh' is the unaspirated version of 'ch' (not voiced as in 'Germany'). 'In the same vein, 'z' is the unaspirated version of 'c' - neither should be voiced (as in 'kiDS'). And 'j' is an unaspirated version of 'q'. 'j' is like Russian 'ч' in 'очень', and x like Swedish kj in 'kjol'. None of these should be voiced like 'j' in 'jam'.

When I first started learning Chinese, I found 'r' by far the most difficult initial. Mandarin speakers seem to have two ways of saying it themselves. One is a bit like the s in 'measure' as you say (although this should be retroflex - it better corresponds with Russian 'ж'); the other is as an approximant, which is oddly difficult to describe, but is rather like an (RP) English 'r' but with the tongue much farther back past the alveolar ridge with the tip curled upward.

Oh, you missed out 'n' and 'l'! But they are both the same as English.

Please don't take this as criticism in any way. I was most heartened to see that you explained p/b t/d k/g properly (most people/books don't!), and that in your last lesson I was amazed you actually explained the 3rd tone properly (most people and virtually all books don't!).


Thanks for the feedback :)


Not at all! Incidentally, you've got the IPA for 'j' and 'q' mixed up.

'w' and 'y' aren't actually initials (as I remembered just after I posted the above); they represent medial 'u-' and 'i-' ('wei'='uei', 'yin'='in', etc.), but are used to lessen ambiguity, as pinyin writes syllables of words together without spaces. (This is why 'wo' sounds like 'uo'.)


Just wanted to say that this post inspired me to learn Chinese. I signed up for YO YO's Chinese, the site where that chart you posted comes from. The amount of spoken Chinese I now know is incredible. I'm like in lesson 50 now, and can read about 100 characters. It might be a bit pricy but I highly recommend the class to people


Nice! I'm really glad that I inspired you.

[deactivated user]

    But the h, can also be use like hē. Not always the ch.

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