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Pinyin: The Foundation of Learning Chinese

Pinyin: The Foundation of Learning Chinese

Author: Chenyun Hu

This packet teaches how to read and pronounce "Pinyin" which is the official system for representing Mandarin with the Roman alphabet. Listen to the pronunciation by scrolling over or clicking on the resources provided on this packet. Practice these sounds until you sound like the native speaker.

Pinyin is a way to represent Chinese characters and express the sounds in the Chinese language using the alphabet. There are other systems to express Mandarin, but Pinyin is the most accepted and widely used. Once you learn Pinyin you will know how to pronounce any word in Mandarin using a Chinese dictionary. Pinyin is also the most common way to input Chinese characters into a computer. Although Pinyin and English both use the Roman alphabet, many letters are not expressed with the same sounds that English uses.

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Initals and Finals

Words expressed in pinyin use a set of 21 sounds representing the beginning of the word called initials, and a set of 37 sounds representing the end of the word called finals. These combine to form about 420 different sounds.

The word for “Flower” expressed in pinyin is: huā

In this word, the letter “h” is the initial and “” is the final.

Words are often combined to form compound words

The word for “China” expressed in pinyin is: zhōngguó

zhōng means middle.
Initial: “zh
Final: “ōng

guó means country.
Initial: “g
Final: “

Learn Chinese Online — Pinyin — Initials

Learn Chinese Online — Pinyin -- Finals


Words in Mandarin that have the same pronunciation can have different meanings depending on how the word is said. The "tone" of a word describes how the the pitch of the speaker's voice changes as the word is said. There are four "tones" in Mandarin which we will cover in detail in the "Tones" section. The tones are represented in pinyin by marks above the words.

There are a number of spelling rules and exceptions to rules that you will learn in these lessons.

Four Tones in Pinyin

Recommended romanization-related books in English

Those who want to go directly to the readings themselves, rather than browse through the tables of contents of the books below to find the sample chapters and other excerpts, can jump to the list of readings available on this site.