1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. Mandarin Chinese - Lesson 1 -…


Mandarin Chinese - Lesson 1 - Pronunciation and Tones

中文 — 课数一 — 发音和声调

zhōngwén - kè shǔ yī - fāyīn hé shēngdiào

你好!Welcome to an introduction lesson of Mandarin Chinese. In this lesson we will learn the pronunciation of pinyin (拼音). This is the system we use to write Chinese using the Latin alphabet and is the system I will use to transliterate Chinese characters in these lessons.

走吧!Let's go!

First let's learn the basic pronunciation, you don't have to remember them all right now. Take your time and learn at a pace that is comfortable to you. Most sounds are similar to English (f sounds like food, d sounds like done, etc.) but here are the ones you need to look out for:

  • Pinyin - English equivalent

Initials - Sounds that come at the start of words

  • Gg - goat never soft like in germ
  • Qq - cheese
  • Xx - ship^
  • Zz - beds
  • Cc - bets
  • Zh zh - joke
  • Ch ch - chin
  • Sh sh - shirt^
  • Rr - ry, like the r in rank followed directly by the y in yogurt

^ About sh vs. x

This is a bit difficult for English speakers to distinguish but here are a few tricks to learn the difference.

  • To pronounce x position your tongue as if you were about to say "cheap" and say a shh sound.

  • To pronounce sh position your tongue as if your were about to say "red" and say a shh sound.

  • However if you've learned Polish/Russian a quick way to learn them is that x = ć/ш and sh = sz/шь approximately.

Finals - Sounds that come at the end of words

I'm gonna do a list of all the main ones since they are pretty important.

  • a - are
  • ai - eye
  • ao - owl
  • an - ant
  • ang - bang
  • o - straw
  • ong - too followed by long
  • ou - go
  • e - duh
  • ei - say
  • en - taken
  • er - are
  • i - tea / duh^
  • ia - yak
  • iao - meow
  • ian - yen
  • iang - yank
  • ie - yes
  • in - din
  • ing - mow*ing
  • iong - you followed by long
  • iu - you
  • u - move
  • ua - swag
  • uo - war
  • ui - way
  • uai - why
  • uan - moo followed by won
  • un - won
  • uang - swag followed by long
  • ü - ew^
  • üe - ew followed by egg
  • üan - ew followed by "wan"
  • ue - you followed by egg
  • üang - ew followed by "wang"
  • ün - ew followed by no

^ About the pronunciation of ü

  • The letter "ü" is not as difficult to pronounce as you may think. Position your mouth as if to say an "ooh" sound (purse your lips tightly though) and while your mouth is in that position, say an "ee" sound.

  • If you've learned German, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian it is pronounced the same way in Chinese.

  • It is also pronounced the same as a Swedish "y" or similar to a French "ooh" sound.

  • If you're still unsure, think of how a typical Scotsman pronounced "you"


Learning tones is like riding a bike, you can read all you want but in the end you won't be able to ride a bike. So I recommend this video to teach tones, but I will go on to explain how they are written in Pinyin. There are two methods, one uses numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) another uses diacritics (ˉ, ˊ, ˇ, ˋ).

First Tone (Flat)

This tone is marked with either a 1 after the syllable or a diacritic called a macron with looks like this: ˉ

Some examples:

  • Ma1
  • Mao1
  • Che1
  • Shu1


  • Māo
  • Chē
  • Chū

In case you want to copy/paste the letters here they are: Āā Ēē Īī Ōō Ūū Ǖǖ

Second Tone (Rising)

This tone is marked with either a 2 or an acute accent which looks like this: ˊ

Some examples:

  • Ma2
  • Ren2
  • Yang2
  • Mao2


  • Rén
  • Yang
  • Máo

In case you want to copy/paste the letters here they are: Áá Éé Íí Óó Úú Ǘǘ

Third Tone (Rising-Falling)

This tone is marked with either a 3 or a caron which looks like this: ˇ

  • Gou3
  • Shou3
  • Hou3
  • Pu3


  • Gǒu
  • Shǒu
  • Hǒu

In case you want to copy/paste the letters here they are: Ǎǎ Ěě Ǐǐ Ǒǒ Ǔǔ Ǚǚ

Fourth Tone (Falling Tone)

This tone is marked with a 4 or a grave accent with looks like this: ˋ

  • Yue4
  • Shu4
  • Ma4
  • Zai4


  • Yuè
  • Shù
  • Zài

In case you want to copy/paste the letters here they are: Àà Èè Ìì Òò Ùù Ǜǜ

That's all for now!


Mùqián wéizhǐ jiù zhèyàngle!


Next Lesson

February 12, 2017





没有, 我不是中国人。我是爱尔兰人




How many lessons are you planning to make?


I'm not sure. It's just gonna be a hobby :)


Thanks for this!

The video you linked to seemed to classify the tones differently: high flat, rising, low flat, and falling. Could you say something about the different classification for those of us completely unacquainted with the matter?


The classification is only used to describe what it sounds like. People give the tones different names, but they all sound the same.


Q in Chinese is slightly different from the 'ch' sound. It's more like the 'ti' in 'question' in French.


NICE!! i learn french in school so i get where ur coming from.


guys, any websites for letters and particles because i also learn japanese and ik that there is a https://www.freejapaneselessons.com for japanese learners such as i.

ps wish me luck with both languages XD

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.