Pinyin Initials

[Combinations of initials and finals from]

Alright. In today’s (laid back on the couch) lesson I went into more depth on pinyin initials. Most sounds in Mandarin are made up of initials and finals (but you know this already as we covered it last week when I introduced initials and finals. πŸ˜‰ )

I’ll quickly cover everything I covered in the video in this blog post.

Listening to and Pronouncing All of the Initials

You can listen to all of the initials on the Hanyu Pinyin for Mandarin Speakers website. Just click “Initials” on the left hand side.

Listen to a row, then do your best to pronounce the row. Rinse and repeat as many times as you can stand (5 or more?). Spend some time on that each day until next week and you should be golden for the next lesson.

“Easy” Initials

Here is a list of the initials that I’ll call “easy.” The reason I’m calling them easy is because the pronunciation of these initials are (in my opinion) practically identical to their English counterpart. As I said in the video Wikipedia has a detailed explanation of the pronunciation of initials, but don’t worry too much about the ones below:

  • b
  • p
  • m
  • f
  • d
  • t
  • n
  • l
  • g
  • k
  • h
  • z
  • s
  • ch
  • sh

You already know more than half of the initials without even studying! Yes, there may be some slight variation between how we say (some of) those and a native speaker of Chinese does but that’s something you can correct as you increase your fluency. Don’t worry about that now. Besides, chicks dig dudes with accents anyway right? πŸ˜‰

The Tricky Initials

Here are the initials you want to spend a little time on. Some are tricky because of how they’re spelled (and other than that they’re easy) and some are tricky because of the pronunciation. Actually… In my opinion there’s only one that is tricky because of the pronunciation and that’s the “c.” To us, it sounds like a combination of the “ts” sound.

So something in pinyin spelled: ca, is spoken like tsa. Just listen to it and practice. We’ll tighten it up later. πŸ™‚

Note on the other tricky ones are:

  • zh – It’s spelled funny, but sounds pretty much like the j sound.
  • r – Looks like r, sounds like r (at first), but it’s a little different. I actually pronounced this wrong for a long time and never had a problem communicating with people. πŸ™‚ Just listen and try to spot the difference.
  • y – Sounds pretty much like y in yes.
  • j – Again, pretty similar to a regular English j sound.
  • q – Spelled funny be sounds pretty much like the “ch” sound (pinyin or English).
  • x – Spelled funny buts sounds pretty much like the “sh” sound (pinyin or English).

One note about the j, q and x is that they’re only used with finals beginning with “i” or “u” (really the ΓΌ).

Looking at the Wikipedia explanation of initials makes me think I’m crazy to simplify them so much but… Wikipedia is full of nerds. What I’m telling you is “good enough.” If you want to get nerdly about it one day, great, but this will get you on the fast track to being able to communicate in Chinese (ie. order food, ask for directions, mack chicks, etc.) Get the basics down first, fine tune them later (like I did with the “r” sound and like I’m still doing with the ΓΌ sound πŸ˜‰ ).

Practice Makes Perfect But Testing Proves It

So after you’ve spent some time listening to and pronouncing the initials, you’ll need to test yourself. Here are the links to the two places I mentioned in the video to self test:
Hanyu Pinyin Practice for Mandarin Speakers – Just click “Exercises” under “Initials” and it will take you to two options. They’re both good exercises, but the second one will be more useful to you at this stage because we haven’t combined initials and finals yet. Click on “Missing Links” and test away! When you’re done filling everything in, just click on show answers. – Just listen and choose the correct initial. Pretty simple eh? πŸ™‚

More Tools And Websites

I mentioned a couple of new tools I’m playing with at the end of the video. The first one was a website called LiveMocha. To play around there, just create an account and… Start playing around! They have their own help section! πŸ˜‰ If you want to add me as a friend, here’s my profile. You can check out the reading I did there under “Submissions.” Actually… For you lazy folk, here’s the link to it. πŸ™‚

Anki – Cramming vocabulary with flashcards is going to be a MAJOR part of my teaching system, so you might as well check that out now. I’ve been looking for a good flashcard system to use and I’m pretty sold on this one from what I’ve seen so far. Download it, play around with it. I’m going to start learning another language soon (probably Japanese) and Anki will play a major role. You can also use it to memorize ANYTHING! I’d also like to mention Supermemo, really quickly as they were the first flashcard manage system I fell in love with. Too bad they don’t have more up-to-date version (spread across multiple OSes).

I Need Feedback!

I don’t care if there’s only ONE person actually following along to any of this as long as I hear from you! I need to know if I’m moving too fast, too slow, if there’s something you have a question about, something you need to know more about, something you need more tools for, etc. Let me know!

This is your one and only chance to get free weekly Chinese lessons online (from me anyway). πŸ˜‰

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7 Responses to Pinyin Initials

  1. This is great! I’ve been piling through the new concept mandarin site you mentioned in your first blog post. I don’t have it all memorized(need to write more of it down!), but when I see the ones I’ve been working on I can pronounce them!

    You aren’t moving too fast, I think it’s better for you to move at your own pace and then backtrack to answer specific questions or whatever.

    • miltownkid says:

      Nice! I’m glad I have at least one “student.” πŸ™‚ Things will get really even MORE fun when we finish the pinyin and tones. Then we’ll start learning words and simpler grammar patterns and get into using the flashcard systems. After that you’ll be able to study at your own pace because you’ll understand the language enough.

  2. sandra says:

    Thank you. As I was practicing I noticed some english words under the initials and finals. At some point do we learn these words or is this similar to English where you put the phonics together? or am I confused?

    • miltownkid says:

      Yes to both. πŸ™‚

      The pinyin is the pronunciation for the character which is underneath it. The English is the meaning of that character.

      There are numerous characters with the same pronunciation (different tones and same tones). That may seem scary, except most WORDS are a combination of 2 or more characters/sounds.

      I hope that answers your question. πŸ™‚ We’ll be learning words and whatnot after we get the ABCs of pinyin down.

  3. Pingback: Improving The Mandarin Chinese Speaking Exercises «

  4. Vanessa says:

    Hey, thanks for this.. Just stumbled across you and am really enjoying the lessons…. Heading to Taiwan in a couple of weeks for a year & you have given me the confidence to get out there!!!

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