Learn to read and write the Chinese alphabet


While there exist many systems of transliterating Chinese into the Latin alphabet, the official phonetic system used in China, Taiwan and Singapore is called Hanyun Pinyin (or just Pinyin for short). Literally, pinyin means "spelled-out sounds", and hanyu means "Han people". It is used both for foreign learners of Chinese as well as by native Chinese-speakers to gain basic literacy for continued self-study.

Some sounds from Chinese are not easily expressed by normal Latin pronunciations. The letters j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, and r have the greatest discrepancies between what an native English speaker would expect and what is pronounced by a Chinese speaker.

Chinese is considered by linguists to be a highly tonal language, with the contour of words often being the sole mechanism to differentiate words which could have very different meanings. For instance the words () "mother", () "hemp", () "horse", () "scold" and (ma) "question marker" all transliterate as "ma". In fact, there's the famous question made just with this sound 妈骂马吗? (mā mà mǎ ma) "Did mom scold the horse?".

To make there different tones there are four diacritical marks along with a neutral tone. Sometimes tones are also marked with a corresponding number, which are also listed in the chart below:

Character # Shape
- neutral
¯ 1 high level
´ 2 rising
ˇ 3 falling rising
` 4 falling

Learning to distinguish and pronounce the shape of words in Chinese is one of the most difficult aspects of the language for beginner students. Don't let it frustrate you. Just listen carefully and try to repeat the sounds exactly as you hear.
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