Pronunciation varies a great deal due to the fact that numerous dialects exist. Since the national dialect is Mandarin, the pronunciation guidelines and systems presented here are for Mandarin only. Other languages have different types of pronunciations systems and tones.
Tones are an essential part to the pronunciation of a word. Though one word varies only from another by a change in tone or emphasis, the two words are entirely different. "Tone" indicates where to place the emphasis on a word. In Mandarin, there are 4 tones: high-level (high and wavering), rising, low-dipping (falling and rising), and falling. Some dialects have nine tones. Essentially tones are used to separate words of similar pronunciation but different meanings and characters. Click Tones to listen to the 4 similar pronunciations of 4 different words. The set of 4 words is spoken 3 times.
Meanings of the 4 different words:
As can be heard, the slightest variation in tone means an entirely different word.
- The first pronunciation means "to dig"
- The second pronunciation means "peach" (the fruit
- The third pronunciation means "to beg"
- The fourth pronunciation means "to cover"
For Mandarin, two main pronunciation systems exist. Romanization is the English translation of a Chinese pronunciation using the English alphabet with accents. However, the rules for using romanization are different than the rules governing English pronunciation. Most of the time, a romanized Chinese word is pronounced very differently using the romanization system than it would be if the word was pronounced using standard English pronunciation guidelines. The other system is the pin yin system which utilizes a Chinese pronunciation alphabet. This alphabet called pin yin is used only to determine the sound of a Chinese word; it gives no information on the appearance of the written character. The logistics and details of these two systems are not covered on this website. On this site, only audio examples are offered for learning the pronunciation of a word.