Chinese Pronunciation

The Pinyin Romanization System
The pronunciation of Chinese words is transcribed in this dictionary using the pinyin transliteration system, the official, internationally recognized Chinese Romanization system. Every Chinese character in this dictionary is accompanied by its pinyin spelling so users will know it is pronounced.

Pronouncing Chinese syllables normally involves three elements: vowels, consonants and tones. Modern standard Chinese, known as Putonghua, uses about 419 syllables without tones and 1332 syllables with tones.

Single Vowels
There are seven basic single vowels:

a  similar to a in ah
e similar to a in ago
ê similar to e in ebb (this sound never occurs alone and is transcribed as e, as in ei, ie, ue)
i similar to ee in cheese (spelled y when not preceded by a consonant)
o similar to oe in toe
u similar to oo in boot (spelled w when not preceded by a consonant)
ü similar to German ü in über or French u in tu; or you can also get ü by
saying i and rounding your lips at the same time (spelled u after j, q, x;
spelled yu when not preceded by a consonant)

Vowel Combination
These single vowels enter into combinations with each other or the consonant of n or ng to form what are technically known as diphthongs. These combinations are pronounced as a single sound, with a little more emphasis on the first part of the sound.

You can learn these combinations in four groups:

Group 1:  diphthongs starting with a/e/ê 
ai  similar to y in my
ao similar to ow in how
ei similar to ay in may

Group 2:  diphthongs starting with i
ie similar to ye in yes
iou similar to you (spelled iu when preceded by a consonant)
ien similar to in (spelled in when preceded by a consonant)
ieng similar to En in English (spelled ing when preceded by a consonant)
iang similar to young

Group 3:  diphthongs starting with u/o
uai similar to why in British English
uei similar to way (spelled ui when preceded by a consonant)
uen (spelled un when preceded by a consonant)

Group 4:  diphthongs starting with ü
üe used only after j, q, x; spelled ue
üen used only after j, q, x; spelled un
üan used only after j, q, x; spelled uan


Consonants may be grouped in the following ways.

Group 1:  These consonants are almost the same in Chinese and English.
Chinese English
m m
n n
f f
l l
s s
r r
b pronounced as hard p (as in speak)
p p (as in peak)
g pronounced as hard k (as in ski)
k k (as in key)
d pronounced as hard t (as in star)
t t (as in tar)

Group 2:   some modification is needed to get these Chinese sounds from English.
Chinese English
j as j in jeep (but unvoiced, not round-lipped)
q as ch in cheese (but not round-lipped)
x as sh in sheep (but not round-lipped)
c as ts in cats (make it long)
z as ds in beds (but unvoiced, make it long)

Group 3:  No English counterparts
Chinese zh, ch, and sh have no English counterparts. You can learn to say zh, ch, and sh starting from z, c and s. For example, say s (which is almost the same as the English s in sesame) and the roll up your tongue to touch the roof of your mouth. You get sh.