Getting Chinese Pronunciation Right

Chinese pronunciation is not particularly difficult, the range of sounds is fewer than in English, and there are no special tricks such as rolling of the tongue. Basically, anyone can learn it, and some foreigners who learn Chinese have better pronunciation than many Chinese people! We use PINYIN to learn Chinese pronunciation, and there are countless resources available for learning PINYIN.

The important thing to understand is this: You won’t get all the sounds exactly right at first, because your ear isn’t fully tuned into the Chinese language. That’s why it’s important to listen carefully to recordings and then repeat. Slowly your ear will better discern the sounds and your pronunciation will improve along with it. Some people advocate going out and speaking a language as much as possible from the beginning, this is actually a double edged sword… on one hand, if you speak speak speak you’ll be fluent early on, but on the other hand, it’s more likely you’d have a very strong accent by virtue of the fact that you didn’t give yourself enough time to tune into the sounds and refine your pronunciation. Time you should have been spending refining pronunciation would have been spent simply using inaccurate pronunciation. I would say spend at least the first month trying to pronounce words accurately and worry about fluency a month or two later.

Previously, I taught oral English in China. most of my students had already learned English for 10 years, they had more that enough foundation in the language so my advice to them was “SPEAK MORE” (to become fluent), but with beginners I’d focus on simply getting their pronunciation right with many pronunciation drills. The same applies to us English speakers who are learning Chinese.

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