For any learner of Mandarin Chinese, nailing down Chinese pronunciation is a huge hurdle. The pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese is quite unlike English or most other languages, which makes it quite difficult to wrap your mind around.
That’s why it is crucial to practice hard – and smart – when it comes to learning Chinese pronunciation. Whether it is getting the hang of the 4 tones, or avoiding commonly mispronounced words, here are some tips for you when you’re learning how to speak Chinese!
Know your pinyin
Hanyu pinyin is a form of romanisation of how Chinese words are pronounced. It is super helpful for learning the pronunciations of Mandarin Chinese, because it gives you something familiar to grasp on to – the alphabet!
However, of course, the pronunciations of Pinyin letters are a little bit different from that in English, so you will need to familiarise yourself with those. Furthermore, you will need to get the hang of the tones – not just to differentiate them, but also to produce them.
Pinyin is pretty straightforward, where most letters directly correspond to one sound. However, there are still some exceptions. For example, you will realise that the sound of ‘a’ in ‘an’ and the ‘tian’ is different.
Other rules you’ll need to be aware of are tone sandhi rules. These refer to changes in the tone of a syllable in certain environments. For example, when learning pinyin, you’ll know that the third tone is defined as a falling then rising tone. However, when a word comprises two back-to-back third tones, the first syllable is pronounced with a second tone instead.
So, although 你好 ‘nǐhǎo’ is written with two third tones, most speakers will pronounce it something like níhǎo instead, with a rising tone on the first word. It pays to know these rules early on so that you don’t get confused when you hear speakers pronouncing words differently from how they are written.
Listen to good examples
Knowing the rules and all are great, but it’s tough to reproduce them if you don’t have some great examples to refer to. Apart from your Chinese teachers or pronunciation guides, you can look to other sources for your everyday input of good Chinese pronunciation as well.
Children’s nursery rhymes, cartoons, or audiobooks are some of the best materials for the beginner. After all, these are made for early Chinese speakers. If you feel ready for something more advanced, you can also tune in to Chinese news broadcasts – these will really give you some of the best examples of standard pronunciation you can find.
Mistakes are inevitable at the learning stage, but what matters is that you spot them and correct them before they become a persistent error. It always helps to have the guidance of a teacher figure to give you feedback on your pronunciation and any mistakes you make.
You can even do so through an online Mandarin course – through video conferencing, your teacher can still help you correct and improve your Chinese pronunciation.
There is no lack of ways to improve your Chinese pronunciation if you are willing to put in the work. Starting from the basic rules, to the constant practice and correction, Chinese pronunciation is tough but not impossible to grasp. If you want to polish your Mandarin pronunciation, why not join us in one of our online Mandarin courses? We’ll be more than glad to have you onboard to brush up your pronunciation, as well as other aspects of learning Mandarin.