Memory Centre: 拼音的秘密 (pīnyīn de mìmì) Pinyin secrets, part II

Welcome to part II of 拼音的秘密 (pīnyīn de mìmì) Pinyin secrets! Let’s get right into it, shall we?

-ui is actually -uei

An easy one to start with! You can hear in shuǐ (水) that there’s actually an “e” hidden in there!

The -an sound is different to the “an” bit in -ang

I know, you’d think that it’s the same but with a “g” tacked on the end, right? But it’s not 🙂 The easiest way to see this difference is by looking at the IPA: -an is pronounced [an] but -ang is pronounced [ɑŋ]! So for those who can’t read IPA, it’s like … -an sounds like the “an” from the English word “pan” (including words like tiān [天],) while -ang sounds like the “ung” from the English word “hunger.”

zh, ch, sh, r vs z, c, s

The pronunciation of zh, ch, sh, r is difficult for English speakers, because there isn’t a good similarity in English. So let’s talk about where our tongues should be when we say them, and how that changes things. With zh, ch, sh, r the tongue should be bent back, touching the middle of the roof of the mouth. This is what gives them their trademark growly feel 🙂 They just aren’t the same if you move your tongue somewhere else.

z, c, s on the other hand, have their tongue position touching your teeth. That’s what gives these ones their trademark hiss-like feel 🙂

If you train yourself to pronounce these Initials in this way, you’ll end up with a sore tongue for a few days, but you’ll end up sounding much better!

In -üe, -ie the “e” is different to the ones in -e, -en, -eng

While the IPA for the “e” portion in -üe, -ie is [e], the IPA for the others is [ə]! What that means is, words like xué (学) or jié (节) are pronounced with an “e” more akin to the “e” in the English word “yes,” and words like gè (个,) běn (本,) and céng (层) are more like the “a” in “about!”

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