Mandarin/Mandarin One/Lesson One

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Reading Material (dúwù 读物)[edit]

Notes (tíjiě 题解) on Pronunciation (fāyīn 发音)[edit]

Pinyin syllables are usually similar to what is pronounced in English, but in some cases the pronunciation of Chinese syllables (usually the initial part), as written in Pinyin, is very different from how one would pronounce them in English. Pinyin is meant to cover all of the possible sounds that exist in Standard Mandarin instead of making learning Chinese easy for English speakers. Start with practicing the four tones that change pitch with the syllables that comprise ma. A link is provided below to a recording that will assist you in developing an appropriate pitch for each syllable. Then work through the sounds presented in the initial consonant and final semivowel tables. Do not start practicing any vocabulary until these sounds have been practiced with a fluent Mandarin speaker or at least with audio recordings and voice feedback. It is crucial for your future ability to communicate since Mandarin only has a limited set of syllables and tones. Unlike in English, mastering this language requires a good pronunciation of every syllable right from the beginning, but true proficiency will only be obtained by years of practice.

Relative pitch changes of the four tones

The Tones (yīndiào 音调)[edit]

Labeled with normal pitch levels used (1=Lowest - 5=Highest)

  1. High flat (e.g. mā source) - Pitch: 5-5. Similar to reciting the alphabet at a high even pitch.
  2. High Rising (má source) - Pitch: 3-5. Similar to the last syllable in a question ("What?") in English.
  3. Low Droppping and Rising (mǎ source) - Pitch: 2-1-4. Similar to expressing disbelief ("Huh?!") in English.
  4. Sharply Dropping (mà source) - Pitch: 5-1. Similar to the last syllable of a sharp, angry command ("Don't you dare!") in English.
  5. Neutral (mama-Note that only the second syllable is of neutral tone, the first one is of high flat source) (tone varies on the spreading out the preceding syllable) - See the table below for for the pitch range.

The previous examples are 1. "mother" , 2. "hemp" , 3. "horse" , 4. "admonish" or "scold" , and 5. a question particle .

Neutral Tone Range[edit]

Tone of first syllable Pitch of neutral tone Example Pinyin English meaning
1 2 玻璃 bōli glass
2 3 伯伯 bóbo uncle
3 4 喇叭 lăba horn
4 1 兔子 tùzi rabbit

Question and Answer (wèndá 问答)[edit]

1. What tone number starts from a high of 5 and ends with a low of 1?

1
The pitch range for the High Flat tone is 5-5.
2
The pitch range for the High Rising tone is 3-5.
3
The pitch range for the Low Dropping and Rising tone is 2-1-4.
4
Great! You selected Sharply Dropping. Knowing the tone numbers are necessary when inputting Chinese characters via an IME.
5
The pitch range for Neutral tone varies according to the preceding syllable.
None of the above

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Initial Consonants (shēngmǔ 声母)[edit]

1 Unaspirated Plosive 2 Aspirated Plosive 3 Unaspirated Sibilant 4 Aspirated Sibilant 5 Nasal 6 Fricative 7 Lateral Tíjiě 题解
1 Bilbial bō pō mō Like the English sounds except for column one and two. is like the unvoiced "p" in sport and is more explosive than poor.
2 Labiodental fō Just as "f" sounds in English
3 Alveolar dē tē nē lē Use the top front teeth. is like the unvoiced "t" in stump and is more explosive than tummy.
4 Dental zī cī sī "dental silibants" - make a hissing or buzzing sound by exhaling while the tongue is touching the top front teeth from behind. is like adds, is like the "ts" in bits but stronger, and is similar to the English "s" with the tongue pressed more toward the top front teeth from behind.
5 Retroflex zhī chī shī rī "retroflexes" (most different) - made when the tongue is rolled back. Zhī is like the "j" in adjure except the tongue is curled much further back and it is unvoiced. Chī is like "chi" in chirp, but the tongue is also rolled futher back and is stronger. Shī is like the "sh" in shirt with the tongue flexed back further. is like shi in that the tongue is rolled back with the tip almost making contact with the top of the mouth.
6 Palatal jī qī xī "palatals" - back of tongue touches the palate while the tip is behind the front bottom teeth. is like jeep, is like cheap, and is like sheep. The lips are not flared like in English, but there is more of a hissing sound instead.
7 Velar gē kē Place tongue on roof - articulated in the back of the mouth near the throat. is like the "k" in skunk, is like the "c" in cut but stronger.
8 Glottal hē has a harsher sound than in English like the "ch" in Bach when the syllable receives emphasis.

Note: Column one is unvoiced and column two are plosives which need more of an explosive puff of air than in English.

Wèndá 问答[edit]

1. What initial sounds like the "sh" in sheep?

shī
The sound for shī is like the "sh" in shirt with the tongue flexed back further.
The sound for sī is similar to the English "s".
The sound for cī is like "ts" in bits but stronger.
Correct! The Chinese initial x is like sh in English.
None of the above

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Final Semivowels (yùnmǔ 韵母)[edit]

Row a -i a e ai ei ao ou an en ang eng ong er
Row i (y) i (yi) ia ie iao iu (you) ian in (yin) iang ing (ying) iong
Row u (w) u (wu) ua uo uai ui (wei) uan un (wen) uang ueng
Row ü (yu) ü üe üan ün

Note: parenthesis in the row name indicate the first letter of the final when there is no initial. Parenthesis elsewhere indicate the irregular spelling of a final when it is without an initial.

Row A Tíjiě 题解[edit]

The following finals sound like the English sounds in italics.

  • -i cannot occur alone and must follow a dental sibilant or retroflex. It prolongs the initial with a "schwa"(ə)-like buzzing after a sibilant (about), and the sound of ear in "earn" after a retroflex
  • A is like ah in "papa"
  • E is like uh in "'nuff of that!"
  • Ai is like eye in "aye-aye captain!"
  • Ei is like a in "weight of eight"
  • Ao is like aow, and is between "awe" and "cow"
  • Ou is like oe in "okay"
  • An is like ahn, and is two-thirds between "an" and "on"
  • En is like un in "women", but not pronounced like "men". Although with some initials it is pronounced like in.
  • Ang is like ang in "angst"
  • Eng is like ung in "rung"
  • Ong is like oong, and it has the vowel sound of "ohm" but ends with the nasal sound of "rung"
  • Er is like ur in "earn", but the fourth tone sound is like "are"

Row I (Y) Tíjiě 题解[edit]

  • I (yi) is like ee, and all other row I finals because it begins with the sound of i in "machine"
  • Ia is like ee-ah in the sound "ja" in German and is somewhat like "yet"
  • Ie is like ee-eh in "yet"
  • Iao is like ee-ow in "yowl"
  • Iu (you) is like eo in "yeoman"
  • Ian is like ee-in in "yen"
  • In (yin) is like een, but is halfway between "in" and "sheen"
  • Iang is like ee-ang, and begins with the same row i starting sound and has the vowel sound like "angst" in German
  • Ing (ying) is like eeng, and the vowel quality is like singing
  • Iong is like ee-ong, and is a combination of yeoman and rung

Row U (W) Tíjiě 题解[edit]

  • U (wu) is like oo. Pronounce by rounding the lips as in whistling a very low note but vocalize the starting "u" sound that every syllable has in this row. Place the tongue toward the back of the mouth.
  • Ua is like wa in wash
  • Uo is like waw, and has the vowel sound of store
  • Uai is like why in wine
  • Ui (wei) is like way in weigh or wee depending on the initial
  • Uan is like wahn in the Spanish "Juan"
  • Un (wen) is like wun in "won"
  • Uang begins like wahng in want and ends with wronng
  • Ueng is like wung, and starts like "won" and ends like "rung"

Row ü (Yu) Tíjiě 题解[edit]

  • ü is somewhat like eeoo, and is more like the German üben or French "lune", and is like all row ü finals. The sound is formed by by saying "ee" with rounded lips and getting the tongue in position to say the Chinese i in machine with the lips as round as and saying the Chinese u instead.
  • üe is like eeoo-eh, and rhymes with ie but begins with ü
  • üan is like eeoo-en, and rhymes with ian but begins with ü
  • ün is like eeoon (similar to French une) which adds the "n" ending to the ü sound

Wèndá 问答[edit]

1. What final sounds like the Spanish word "Juan"?

uan
Correct! It sounds "wahn" in English.
uang
is like "wahng" in English
ueng
is like "wung" in English
ün
Starts with the ü and ends with the n sound
None of the above

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Quiz (tí wèn 提问)[edit]

Lesson One Quiz