Learning Mandarin Chinese: Pinyin and Tones

Chinese Characters are hard to recognize, much easier to read with Pinyin!
How do you pronounce Chinese characters? Pinyin will show you how to say it right!

Step one on learning to speak Mandarin Chinese is to learn Pinyin pronunciation and tones. Just like alphabets in English, it’s the foundation of a language.

Many non-Chinese speaker often use the stereotype phase “Chin Chun Chow” to pretend to speak the language. Throughout the years of doing translation work and teaching Chinese, I’ve had many people asking me what does this phase means? It doesn’t have any meaning. However, it is a good example of how the language sounds. An old Chinese poem describes speaking Mandarin Chinese as a string of pearls. Each character is like a pearl, it is said individually and clearly, but very smoothly connected like a pearls bracelet. To learn to clearly pronounce each Chinese characters, We are going to learn Pinyin pronunciation and tones.

Pinyin pronunciation:

Pinyin helps to start up with learning Mandarin Chinese with a solid foundation. It converts the traditional way of pronunciation MPS to using English Alphabets. Pinyin contains 26 Initials, 16 Finals, 22 Combined Finals, and 5 tones, as shown in the table below.

Pinyin Initials and Finals

You can find voice note here for Initials, Finals, and Combined finals.


Each Finals and Combined finals are accompanied by a tone, and there are a total of 5:

  1. The first tone is a flat and long. In writing, this is a flat line on top of a final. E.g. 哀 Āi, means sorrow.
  2. The Second tone rises in pitch. In writing it’s a ˊ on top of a final. E.g. 癌 Ái, means cancer.
  3. The Third tone tone drops the pitch slightly and then picks up. In writing it’s like a tick ˇ on top of a final. E.g. 矮 Ǎi, means short.
  4. The Fourth tone drops the pitch. In writing it’s a ˋ on top of a final. E.g. 愛 Ài, means love.
  5. The Fifth tone is a short sound, just like a for stop. In writing it’s a dot or nothing on top of the final. E.g. 唉 Ai or Ȧi, means Sigh!

I have created a diagram to demonstrates how each tone changes in pitch and the length of pronouncing each tone. You can listen here to see how each tone sounds on the examples used above with the final (ai).

A guide to how to pronounce the 5 tones

Next weeks Wednesday, we will be talking about Branding the Business in Mandarin Chinese. This is a topic often neglected and simply been direct translated in my years of doing business translation and website localization. If you are following the Han Blog for learning Mandarin Chinese, don’t worry, we’ll be learning how to write a brand of a car in Chinese, so if you like cars, comment on which car you’d like to learn to write in Mandarin Chinese.

See you next week for: Business Translation: Branding and Localization

Learning Mandarin Chinese: Hello, world 你好,世界<< >>Business: Branding and Localization for Asia market