Mandarin Pinyin

Learning Highlight

  • Start with the foundation of the construction of Mandarin Chinese.

  • Introduce a set of initials and finals of pinyin.

  • Explain the phonetic translation of Mandarin pronunciation and tones.

  • Discuss the rules of tone changes in pinyin.

  • Study the spelling rules of pinyin.

What is Mandarin Chinese?

What is Mandarin Chinese?

Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language in China.

Mandarin Chinese has two parts, one is the Chinese characters, called "Hanzi" which is used for writing and reading. Another part is Chinese pinyin, called "Pinyin" which is used for speaking and listening.

Why Need to Know Mandarin Pinyin?

Why Need to Know Mandarin Pinyin?

Pinyin is the official phonetic system which uses specific symbols to represent the sound of the Mandarin Chinese language.

Each Mandarin Chinese has its own Pinyin, and Pinyin of Mandarin Chinese has 3 parts:

1. The first part is Initial,
2. The second one is final,
3. The last one is tone.

If we talk with others in Chinese, Pinyin is the most basic thing we need to master.

Pinyin is the primary tool which helps learners to pronounce Chinese words. It makes Mandarin Chinese more accessible and easier to learn.



Chinese Pinyin has 21 Initials. Initials are similar to consonants in English. According to their phonetic characteristics, initials are classified into 6 categories as follows:

1. Labials,
2. Dentals,
3. Velars,
4. Palatals,
5. Aveolars or Flat Tongue Initials,
6. Retroflexes or Curled Tongue Initials.

Initial Pronunciation

Initial Pronunciation

The initials themselves can be pronounced in “real voice”. However, the real voice is extremely weak in nature.

For the sake of the convenience of teaching Mandarin Chinese, we put initials with vowel
that is finals to make them pronounce louder and clearer.

The sounds produced by the initials combined with the finals are the “breath sounds”.

Here they are, let’s pronounce the initials one by one.



Chinese pinyin has 24 finals and they are classified into four types as follows:

1. Simple finals,
2. Compound finals,
3. Special final,
4. Nasal finals.



In Mandarin Chinese, we have 4 tones, including:

(1) First Tone is a high-level pitch, it is high and flat, like singing a long high note.

(2) Second Tone is a rising tone, starts medium in tone, then rises to the top, like the word “Yes” in answering a question.

(3) Third Tone is low-dipping-rising tone, starts low, dips quickly to the bottom, then rises. It is usually described as a falling-rising tone.

(4) Fourth Tone is falling tone, starts at the top, then falls sharp and strong to the bottom, like an enthusiastic affirmation: “Yes”.

Tone Changes

Tone Changes

There are certain situations, normal tone of a Chinese character will change to another tone according to what comes before or after it.

Three main tone change rules you need to know as follows:

Rule 1: Tone changes for third tones.

Rule 2: Tone changes for yi (means one).

Rule 3: Tone changes for bù (means “no”).

Spelling Changes

Spelling Changes

In Mandarin Chinese, there are 4 types of spelling changes you need to know as follows:​

(1) Spelling Changes of the Finals i, u and ü

(2) Spelling Changes of the Final ü

(3) Spelling Changes of the “er”

(4) Spelling Changes of adding an apostrophe “ ,”

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