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01 July, 2007:
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Putonghua Initials Pronunciation Guide

The following is a guide to the pronunciation of Chinese initials based on English pronunciation. Keep in mind that it is not a guide to pronouncing letters, bu a guide to pronouncing the sounds of a language. Also remember that the English sounds used below are NOT exact equivalents to those of Chinese. There is no replacement for hearing and imitating the pronunciation of a native speaker. Our Initials Chart provides a more detailed look at the pronunciation of initials.

b- sounds like the “p” in spoke

p- sounds like the “p” in poke

m- sounds like the “m” in moat

f- sounds like the “f” in “f” in four

 

d- sounds like the “t” in step

t- sounds like the “t” in tell

n- sounds like the “n” in nest

l- sounds like the “l” in let

 

g- sounds like the “k” in skunk

k- sounds like the “c” in cut

h- sounds like the “h” in how;

 

j- sounds like the “j” in Jeep*

q- sounds like the “ch” in cheep*

x- sounds like the “sh” in sheet*

 

zh- sounds like the “dge” in bridge**

ch- sounds like the “ch” in chop**

sh- sounds like the “sh” in shot**

r- sounds like the “r” in right***

 

z- sounds like the “ds” in birds

c- sounds like the “ts” in hats

s- sounds like the “s” in sit


For a more detailed look at Putonghua initials that includes IPA spellings, Click Here.

For a guide to the pronunciation of syllable finals, Click Here.

*j-, q-, and x- can only occur before the high front vowels i and ü. The blade of the tongue should touch the palate just behind the alveolar ridge.

**zh-, ch-, sh- and r- cannot occur before the high front vowels i and ü. These consonants are called retroflexes. They are pronounced by reaching the tip of the tongue towards the back of the throat. In other words, the tip of your tongue should be a bit further back than it is when you pronounce the equivalent English sounds.

***r- is not quite the same as the English “r.” It should be pronounced with your tongue in the same place as the other retroflex consonants.