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Overview of Chinese Pinyin, or Hanyu Pinyin

by Rosie Wang

Chinese Pinyin is the Romanization of the Chinese "written sounds". Romanization approximates Mandarin pronunciation with Western spellings and includes a tone mark to signify the pitch of a word.

Chinese Pinyin Just like the alphabet A–Z in English, Pinyin provides a phonetic alphabet for Chinese and is taught from Grade 1 in Chinese elementary schools. It is a fundamental tool used for learning the spelling of Chinese characters throughout Chinese language study.

Pinyin is used by most modern Chinese dictionaries to denote pronunciation of characters. It is also an efficient input method in Chinese computer software, which is natively supported by Microsoft Windows OS.

After mastering Pinyin, you can easily read Chinese books with Pinyin marked, learn Chinese characters by looking in the dictionary, or input Chinese characters into your computer — it will take your Chinese study to a higher level.

25 out of 26 English alphabet letters are used in Pinyin. The letter v is not used, while the letter ü is added to represent the vowel sound of "yu".

Pinyin includes consonants and vowel letters.

  1. Consonant letters: There are 20 consonant sounds used in Mandarin (three of which are represented by a combinations of two letters — zh, ch and sh). The full list is as follows: b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, r, y and w.
  2. Vowel letters: There are 6 vowel letters used in Mandarin: a, o, e, i, u, ü
  3. Syllables: These consist of consonants, vowels and tone.The consonant that begins a syllable is called an initial. Initials can be: b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, sh, r, y or w

The remaining parts after the initial are called finals.. Finals can be a single vowel, a combination of vowels, or a combination of vowels and nasal n or ng:

  1. There are 6 simple finals which are single vowels; these are: a, o, e, i, u and ü.
  2. The others are compound finals; these are: ai, ao, ou, ei, ia, ie, iao, iou, ua, uo, uai, uei, üe, an, ang, ong, en, eng, in, ing, ian, iang, iong, uen, ueng, uan, uang, ün and üan.

The combination of 21 initials and 33 finals in Mandarin Romanization (there are five more finals, but they share the same symbols as other finals) can form about 420 different sounds.

A word consists of an initial + final + tone. In some cases, the initial can be omitted.

Although most of the sounds are generally close to how they are used and pronounced in English, some don't follow English letters exactly and are pronounced differently.

Pay extra attention to the differences and listen closely to each Chinese sound; it takes practice to pronounce them correctly.