The Introduction of the Chinese Phonetic System

In modern Chinese, the initials and finals and tones form combinations known as syllables. In Chinese we called “PinYin”. Different with many languages in the world, Chinese syllables with the change of high and low lift, this is the tone. The following is the Chinese syllable system:

1. The Initial

Initials refers to the first part of the Chinese syllable. There are 23 consonants in Mandarin Chinese. They are b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, h, j, k, q, x, zh ch, sh, r, z, c, s y w. There are also some zero initial syllables in Mandarin, which are syllables with no consonant, only the finals, for example àn(按) ài(爱), ánɡ(昂) ò(哦). According to the pronunciation position and method, we can divide the initials into seven categories:

(1) Bilabial. Use upper lip and lower lip to form the block to pronounce initials b , p, m.

(2) Labiodental. Upper teeth and lower lip form the block initial f.

(3) Supradialectical. Tip of the tongue and back of the upper teeth form the block initials z, c, s.

(4) Blade-alveolar vowel. The tip of the tongue and the upper gum form block initials d, t, n, l.

(5) Blade-palatal sound. The front of the tongue and palate form the block initials zh, ch, sh, r.

(6) The lingual sounds. The front part of the tongue and the middle palate form block initials j, q, x.

(7) Velar. The lingual backup and the soft palate form block initials g, k, h.

2. The Finals

Finals come after initials in Chinese syllables. There are 38 finals in Mandarin. We can divide them into two parts, single vowels and compound vowels. They are a、o 、 e 、 i 、u、 ü 、er、-i(apico front vowel)、 -i(back apico vowel)、ai 、 ei 、 ao 、ou、 ia、ie、 ua、 uo、 iao 、iu 、uai 、ui、 an、ian、uan、üe、üan、en、in、uen、ün、ang、iang、uang、eng、ing、ueng、ong、iong.

3. The Tones

Tones refers to the entire syllable’s change in lift. There are four basic tones in Mandarin, the first tone, the second tone, the third tone and the fourth tone. If the tones are different, the same syllable will have different meanings, for example bā(八) eight bá(拔) to pull bǎ(靶) target bà(爸) father. The following is the tone schematic:


Tones, initials, and finals in Chinese syllables are interdependent and closely linked. The Chinese phonetic system is very important for learning Chinese, especially for beginners and people who don’t know Chinese characters. Chinese Pinyin is a tool for learning Chinese, and can be a great help for improving students’ pronunciation. It also can help students learn and speak Chinese more quickly, and after learning Chinese pinyin, students will be able to read Chinese by themselves.