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Pinyin, or more formally Hanyu pinyin, is currently the most commonly used romanization system (phonemic notation and transcription to Roman script) for Standard Mandarin. Hanyu means the Chinese language, and pinyin means “phonetics”, or more literally, “spelling sound” or “spelled sound”.

This system approximates Chinese mandarin pronunciation with Roman letters and informs the user at which pitch to pronounce a word. It was developed by a government committee in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and approved by the Chinese government on February 11, 1958.

This system is now used in mainland China (and Hong Kong, Macau, and parts of Taiwan) to teach Mandarin Chinese to schoolchildren. It has become a tool for many foreigners to learn the Mandarin pronunciation, and is used to explain the grammar and spoken Mandarin together with hanzi (Chinese characters).

Therefore, Hanyu pinyin is fairly important for Chinese-language learning, no matter natives-speakers or foreigners.

Chinese Flashcards - Hanyu Pinyin Chinese DVD: Qiaohu Learns Pinyin (Age 2-6, 4 DVDs)
Chinese Flashcards – Pinyin Chinese DVD: Qiaohu Learns Pinyin (Age 2-6, 4 DVDs)

“Initial sounds” and “final sounds”

The writing of Hanyu pinyin adopts the Latin alphabets to note the Chinese characters and spell the pronunciation for standard Chinese common speech according to the specified rules of spellings.

Most of the sounds in Chinese are easy for English speakers, but some difficult pronunciations require more practice. Except for syllables ending with nasal sounds, such as “n” and “m,” all Chinese syllables end with vowels.

A Chinese syllable normally consists of three elements: the initial, the final and the tone. The initial and the final are spelled together and then a tone will be marked to show the pitch of the syllable.

There are twenty-one initial sounds and thirty-six final sounds, making a total of 57 basic sounds. Combinations of initials and finals plus the special cases result in around 420 possible combinations. Applying the four tones of Mandarin Chinese to this, we get a total of around 1,600 unique syllables.

Learning Chinese PinYin Is Easy: For The Beginners McGraw-Hill's Chinese Illustrated Dictionary: 1
Learning Chinese PinYin Is Easy: For The Beginners McGraw-Hill’s Chinese Illustrated Dictionary

Four tones

Chinese language is a highly tonal and homophonic language. It means there are a vast number of Chinese words having the same sounds while expressing different meanings. In such case, correct tonal pronunciation is essential for intelligibility since different tones help clarify meanings of words and distinguish words from each other.

Mandarin Chinese has four pitched tones, or five if you count the “neutral” tone or the “toneless” tone. The four tones are usually depicted graphically with the following diagram to visualize where each one occurs in tonal space.

Tones help the relatively small number of Chinese syllables (approximately 400 compared to around 12000 English syllables) to multiply and express meanings.

Hanyu Pinyin

Watch this YouTube video to learn the basic of Hanyu pinyin:

Related posts:
Introduction of Hanyu Pinyin – Basics
Introduction of Hanyu Pinyin – Initial Sounds
Introduction of Hanyu Pinyin – Final Sounds
Introduction of Hanyu Pinyin – Four tones


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