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Pinyin: Master instantly in 4 steps

Pinyin works like the Chinese alphabet: It describes the pronunciation of all Chinese characters. You will learn it in 4 steps:

Step 1: vowels
Step 2: consonants
Step 3: easy combinations
Step 4: all combinations


There are two different types to learn new stuff: Some prefer reading necessary information first and then take a quiz to test if they learned well, while some others prefer learning from mistakes that help them remember better. It’s hard to tell which is better. If you are someone who prefers learning from mistakes, you can start with the quiz right away.

However, if you are someone who prefers getting a general idea, keep reading and take the quiz at the end. You can first read through the content below and then start with the quiz. In my experience, there are different kinds of students and you shouldn’t feel like there is a better way. Both methods work well.

Pinyin overview:

Pinyin Chart
Pinyin Chart (Source: http://du.hanyupinyin.cn/ )

If you haven’t read my article yet, I suggest that you start with it to get an overall impression: Chinese Alphabet – Accomplish easily in 10 minutes

Pinyin vowels:

Chinese pinyin vowels Audio
Chinese alphabet vowels all
Pinyin vowels all (source)

5 of these Chinese pinyin vowels are something you already know:

a

o

e

i

u

Among these 5 Chinese pinyin vowels, it is the easiest to learn a o u because they sound the same as in English. The only thing you need to pay attention to here is to differentiate o, ou, and uo. For now, you only need to remember: 

The pronunciation of “o” should only be written as “o” alone. If you are trying to pronounce o as in oh, you need to write it as ou. For now, you only need to know about this, don’t worry about possible mistakes.  

E is also something that exists in English. But do get used to its new pronunciation as in “the” and not as in “bed. Keep this in mind. Also, u is the same as in English as well. 

Among these 6 Chinese pinyin vowels, only ü is new to you. If you happen to know German, this shouldn’t be a problem because they are the same: The German ü and the Chinese pinyin ü. And for Turkish, it’s the same ü as well. And I’m quite sure many many languages have “ü” as a basic pronunciation. If your native language is one of them, just feel lucky.   

But if not, that’s not a problem, either. Imagine that you are pronouncing i and u together: Instead of saying you, make sure that you pronounce i and u at the same time to make an ü.

If you can’t make it at this point, don’t worry. Just keep this information in mind and pay attention whenever you hear or see an ü. It will come with time. 

ü

I have prepared a full video to explain Chinese pinyin. You can go ahead and watch the full video, or you can take a quiz directly to finish this course.

Another thing that can appear difficult for you would be combining these vowels. Most combinations are familiar to you, which helps to make the start easy. However, there are some combinations that simply do not exist in Chinese. Examples are:

au

on

ung

They are combinations that do not exist in Chinese. The correct writing forms for these are:

ao

an/un

ong

The exact pronunciation “on” does not exist in Chinese. There are combinations as “ban” or “tun”, both could be similar to “on”, but “on” itself does not exist. With “ung” it’s the same: “ong” is the only possibility to write whereas “ung” simply does not exist.

These are things that you do not need to remember 100% at this point. But knowing this as a fact can help you in the future whenever you encounter new combinations. It would be far more unlikely that you make mistakes you otherwise could have made. Again: I am will not make a list of all possible mistakes that you should avoid at the very beginning. And you shouldn’t, either!

I planned this course with multiple quizzes to make the start as easy as possible. By the end of the last quiz, you will be able to spell all possible Chinese pronunciations. So simply follow the steps indicated.

Pinyin Consonants:

Pinyin Consonants

Most of this course contains something you already know. For this part, you just need to click through the quiz. For now, you only need to listen to the audio once. In addition, there is one consonant that is slightly different from your first guess. But it’s still pretty close to English. At last, there are only 3 consonants that you really need to learn.

Now listen to the MP3 with the graphic below.

Chinese Alphabet letters Consonants
Pinyin Consonants (source)

I know, j q x r are treated equally in the audio file. You haven’t got any chance to learn their pronunciation exactly. And this is why you need to take the quiz: You will learn them during the quiz.

Pinyin chart: combine 29 alphabets

The easiest pinyin chart that you can find would be the following:

Pinyin Chart
Pinyin Chart

However, there are some combinations that you should also know. They are:

Pinyin Chart Combinations
Pinyin chart combination vowels (source)

Even without hearing them for once, you will already know most of these combinations.

Therefore, I picked three combinations that you don’t know yet here. You can learn the rest with the quiz.

Chinese alphabet combinations vowels new
Chinese alphabet combinations vowels new

I picked these three because they could be confusing to you:

  • You should pronounce ou like o in old and not as o in odd. The combination ou sounds just like if you were trying to say the alphabet o in English.
  • Meanwhile, uo should be pronounced as wo, just as it’s written.

ong is something that almost doesn’t exist in English. In my experience, many students tend to type “ung” when they should type “ong”. But in Chinese, the combination “ung” does not exist. Instead, ong is quite common.

There are more combinations like this: They don’t exist in the Chinese alphabet. You can read this article to learn more about it: Combinations that don’t exist in the Chinese alphabet. But I find it better that you first learn what to do, instead of learning what not to do.

Now finally it’s about the quiz. Start here:

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Who wrote this?

Chi Zhang

A sinologist, anglicist, linguist, and a tech lover who lives in Berlin. Was once a manager, producer, school opener, language teacher, SEO agency owner, and marketing director.
She could be angry sometimes, especially about racism, but overall, she's a friendly person who's famous for her loud laughter.
Here's the place for her to express a new voice in the language world, a world dominated by the west.