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A quick guide to pronouncing Chinese words

Date published: 2018-05-12

Below is a quick write-up and reference guide for anyone who wants to get an idea of how to pronounce chinese words, names, etc.

I’ve written this guide because I’ve heard too many people mispronounce Chinese words and names throughout my entire university life. Most of the time, the pronunciations were so off that it was not recognized by the Chinese speaker. I’ve heard professors, employers, friends and professionals alike all struggle with trying to figure out how a Chinese name or word should be pronounced based on their transliterated spelling in English.

Where can I apply this guide?

The tips that I will be giving you in this guide will not only be applicable to words and names, but they can also be applied to restaurant names, food items, signs, and anything that is using Pinyin.

Note: Pinyin does not work with Cantonese or any other dialects of Chinese.

How can I learn pronunciation from text?

You will learn how to pronounce the sounds via Pinyin, it is the standard pronunciation for Mandarin Chinese, which is the lingua franca of Mainland China. The Pinyin will then be referenced to a similar sound in English (plus one French sound), as seen in the table below.

Note: These sounds are not perfect equivalents; they are only approximations. If you want to be able to pronounce Chinese more accurately, I advise you to study the actual native Chinese sounds and tones associated with the Pinyin on your own time.

Quick reference guide

Pinyin consonants
Pinyin consonant Similar English sound
B Boy
C Mitts
D Dog
F Fun
G Good
H Hat
J John
K Cat
L Love
M Mother
N No
P People
Q Chicken
R Jaune (from French)
S Sun
Sh Shower
T Tomorrow
W Why
X Shower
Y Yes
Z Kids
ZH John
Pinyin vowels
Pinyin vowel Similar English sound
A Cat
Ai Fly
Ang Song
E Foot
Eng Sung
I in Bi, Di, Ji, Li, Mi, Ni, Pi, Qi, Ti, Xi Me
I in Si, Shi, Ci, Chi, Zi, Zhi, Ri Fish
Ia Ya
Iang Yawn + walking = Yawng
Iao Meow
Ing Walking
O Boy
Ou Blow
U True
Ua Watch
Uai Why
Ue Wedding
Ui Way