Mandarin Pronunciation Tips – She spends cents on cheap jam

3DimensionsPronounceConsonants

[Image description: cross section diagram of human face showing tongue and soft palate positions]

Some Mandarin sounds don’t exist in English. But this guide is close.

Learn 5 pinyin Mandarin consonants:  x,z,c,q,zh. These roughly match this English mnemonic (the other Mandarin consonants are pretty much the same as in English).

She spends cents on cheap jam.
X               Z         C       Q        Zh

x as in sh in she
z as in ds in spends
c as in ts in cents
q as in ch in cheap
zh as in j in jam

x is often hardest:

xi = she
xian = shen
xi’an = she arn
xiang = sh ar young (run together quickly)
xiao  = as in shower
xing = shing
xu = shoe
xuan = shoe en

Audio on Pronounce Names is not too bad


Vowels, especially i and e can be harder when they follow z-, c-, s-, zh-, ch-, sh- or r-. The i has been described as a “tongue tip vowel” or a “buzzed continuation of the consonant”. Try making the sound with your tongue near the roof of your mouth and just pushing a little “uh” sound. Thus:

zi sounds like z-uh

ci sounds like c-uh

si sounds like s-uh

zhi sounds like zh-uh

chi sounds like ch-uh

shi sounds like sh-uh

ri sounds like r-uh

But for the e vowel try to keep your tongue on the bottom of your mouth (in the Beijing pronunciation there is often a rolled r at the end which may make pronunciation easier for an English speaker.) Thus:

ze sounds like z-errr

ce sounds like c-errr

se sounds like s-errr

zhe sounds like zh-errr

che sounds like ch-errr

she sounds like sh-error

re sounds like r-errr.

wu sounds like oo as in wool.

Remember that this is a rough guide only. It’s better to listen to a native and do minimal pairs until you are confident.

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