Tā Tā For Now 他 vs 她
I am understanding correctly that pronouns in Chinese are only specify gender in written form, but not in spoken form?
That's correct. The word for "it", 它 tā is also pronounced the same, though it's not used nearly as often as the word "it" is in English.
This does get confusing for English speakers sometimes, I've been in full fledged conversations about a third person thinking they were one gender only to realize my brain had assumed the wrong one when I heard the pronoun the first time.
I had wondered the same thing, when I first saw this. Phrases that we use in English such as "his or hers" seem null in this case, but then again you can always word it differently, using names or pointing or saying "the man's or the woman's", etc. I actually kinda like it when I use Hello Chinese, because it kinda tricks you in your practices. :)
Yes. And it can be confusing to hear if you have a sentence with several pronouns, like "He told me that his mother did not like his dog because it bit everything./他告诉我因为他的狗什么都咬所以他的妈妈不喜欢它。“ By listening to the sentence only, we need to rely on the context to deduct a reasonable meaning and eliminate the less reasonable ones, e.g. His mother probably would not dislike him just because his dog bit.
In reverse when we translate Chinese back to English or other European languages it is also a challenge. From time to time I would consciously write something using "his/her/their" repeatedly to stay grammatically correct, while there are better ways of expressing that meaning.
This is also why quite a few Chinese learners of English will accidentally say "he" when they mean "she" and vice versa.
I've seen a lot of laowai who get kinda tacky about this, and will lecture Chinese folks ("You do know the difference between a boy and a girl, don't you?") without bothering to understand the context of the mistake.
NO there is no specific way to say the words even though the characters are different. 它 (used to describe animals or inanimate objects) is also different from both of the other words, but all three of the words are spoken the same, so when you need to say one of those words you can pronounce them all the same.