How to Learn Pinyin Online

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Written Chinese takes the form of characters, which may be written in long form, which is how Chinese words have been written traditionally, or short form, which is a simpler, easier-to-understand form of writing. If you're new to Chinese and aren't sure how to pronounce a word, you can use the English pronunciation of Chinese words to help you learn how to read and pronounce Chinese words. This English pronunciation form of writing is called pinyin or hanyu, and it incorporates the English alphabet in conjunction with accent marks to show the correct tones for each syllable.

  • Review the format of pinyin. Chinese pinyin focuses on the pronunciation of a written character. In Chinese, each character represents a syllable rather than an entire word. Each pinyin syllable consists of an initial and a final. The initial is the very first sound the syllable makes and is usually a consonant, while the final may consist of one or more vowel sounds. Remember that each pinyin word may consist of several syllables, and it is important to recognize each part of each syllable for correct pronunciation.

  • Pronounce pinyin words according to their accent marks. A flat line across a syllable indicates that the word should be first tone in Chinese. A line moving up indicates second tone. A short "v" shaped loop indicates third tone, while a line down indicates fourth tone. A lack of accent mark indicates that the word is neutral, which means you can pronounce it normally without exaggeration as you would in English. If you find it difficult to remember what each tone sounds like, remember that your voice follows the direction of the line. For example, if a word is third tone, your voice should get lower and then higher as you say the word, just as the "v" shaped accent mark goes down and up.

  • Review new vocabulary words with online flash cards that offer pinyin in addition to printed characters. Click the word to hear it pronounced, and repeat it out loud. Say both the English definition and the Chinese pronunciation of the word to learn it by heart.

  • Review the correct pronunciation of vowel sounds in Chinese. Although pinyin incorporates the English alphabet for ease of use, remember that the syllables are still pronounced slightly differently than most English-speakers are used to hearing.

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