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Getting started with Chinese 3
Getting started with Chinese 3

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1.2 Initials

There are 23 initials, if we count w and y (some scholars regard w and y as semi-vowels), in modern Chinese. See the tables below comparing the 23 initials with the English sounds.

Initials in modern Chinese
b sounds similar to the b sound in the English word ‘bid
p sounds similar to the p sound in the English word ‘pot
m sounds similar to the m sound in the English word ‘me
f sounds similar to the f sound in the English word ‘food
d sounds similar to the d sound in the English word ‘do
t sounds similar to the t sound in the English word ‘tea’      
n sounds similar to the n sound in the English words ‘no’      
l sounds similar to the l sound in the English word ‘leek
g sounds similar to the g sound in the English word ‘girl
k sounds similar to the k sound in the English word ‘key
h sounds similar to the h sound in the English word ‘hot
w sounds similar to the w sound in the English word ‘wet
y sounds similar to the y sound in the English word ‘yes

Now listen to the above initials pronounced in combination with the vowel sounds a, e, u, o, i.

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More initials in modern Chinese
j sounds similar to the j sound in the English words ‘jeep’ and ‘jeans’, but with the tongue nearer the teeth and the mouth relaxed
q sounds similar to the ch sound in the English words ‘cheese’ and ‘cheek
x sounds similar to the ch sound in the English word ‘machine’ (when pronouncing x, raise the tip of your tongue near to your hard palate, then let the air rub through the channel between them)
z sounds similar to the ds sound in the English word ‘beads
c sounds similar to the ts sound in the English word ‘meets
s sounds similar to the s sound in the English word ‘sit
zh no sound in English is similar to this, but it is in between the j sound in ‘jade’ and dr sound in ‘dream’ or ‘drive
ch sounds similar to the ch sound in the English words ‘church’ and ‘match’ (with the tip of the tongue curled)
sh sounds similar to the sh sound in the English words ‘English’ and ‘wish’ (with the tip of the tongue curled)
r sounds similar to the r sound in the English word ‘road’, but with the tip of the tongue curled up a bit more

Now listen to the above initials pronounced in combination with the vowel ‘i’ (pay attention to how the variant of ‘i’ is pronounced after z, c, s, zh, ch, sh and r when it is a short vowel extension of these initials).

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