Review some of the PinYin sounds using a chart that relates the sounds to English. That way, when you briefly forget a sound, it’s easy to get back on track. Next, you WILL want to learn to the PinYin sounds said in Chinese. By listening carefully, and mimicking the sounds, you offer yourself the best opportunity for cementing these sounds in your mind. In essence, it helps to
But, to truly get the most out of this workout, you’ll at least want to take the finals (“vowels”) and say EACH FINAL using all four of the tonal sounds. In this way, you’ll be able to learn a sound and put it to use just as it is normally said in Chinese (with a tone, of course!). Not only that, but this daily routine will ensure that you master both the tones and PinYin, which are the fundamentals of the language.
As I practice the finals on all four tones, I decided to call this daily exercise the “PinYin song.” The reason for this is that as you are saying this routine, it truly does sound like a song you are singing! At least, it should if you are saying your tones correctly!
Some would argue that PinYin is nothing like any of the sounds in English. However, I would disagree and believe that the best way to learn something new is to first go from what you know. For this reason, I have put together a set of initials and finals that includes the similar sounds from English.
Others prefer to strictly adhere to a routine of rote memory that they use in order to learn PinYin. While I feel that this is the most painful way to go, there are some benefits from first listening to and then repeating these sounds. Thus, you’ll find that my approach is really a combination of the two.
To hear the finals (with both male and female voices), click here.
The next step after tones is to learn PinYin. If you have at least an idea of how the tones work, you’ll now be able to practice each of the four tones using each sound in PinYin. While this might seem impractical for all the sounds, it is nonetheless, extremely efficient in building your tonal skills if you at least do so with the “vowels” of the language.
Overview of PinYin
Let’s get started with a brief overview of the PinYin sounds. First, there are two categories of sounds in PinYin (the initials and finals) which are much like consonants and vowels. The initials are more like the consonants, while the finals are more like the vowels.
Initials come at the beginning of a word, thus the designation “initial.” There are 23 initials using the simplest form of PinYin. Not bad, since there are 21 consonants in English.
When you consider the finals, however, it might seem a little overwhelming at first. But, an important idea to keep in mind is that even though there are 24 finals (which are much like our vowels), this set of 24 includes many of the combinations of sounds that we use once we combine two or more vowels together. In this way, you’re able to get rid of a lot of the rules for putting vowels together, and simply focus on the 24 sounds.
See the intro to PinYin finals in the next post…
You’ve been introduced to the four tones, but it will be up to you to practice as much as possible so you can master these tones! Of course, you can expect to sound pretty strange at first as you are learning to speak them and will probably make many mistakes as you begin. But the important point is to keep going!
As you continue on your journey to learn the language, you’ll find that soon the tones will become like second nature. As you learn new characters, words, and phrases, you’ll find you always need to concentrate on the tones, but once memorized and practiced, you be surprised at how easily they come! (Eventually, the tone–and the word it goes with–becomes ingrained in your mind so much so that it’s difficult to separate the two).
You’ve uncovered the basics of tones and are now up to challenge of beginning to learn PinYin which are the spoken sounds of the language. Some like to think of it as the Chinese alphabet or phonetics, but it’s not exactly either.
See the next post to find out more about PinYin…