Reading Standard Chinese Pinyin

Hànyǔ Pīnyīn

This is the official Romanisation system of Standard Chinese, 普通話 : 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà, which is based on the Mandarin dialect of Northeastern China. The Pinyin system is used in mainland China and was endorsed by the government in 1958.

Here follows a very, very rough guide to pronouncing pinyin. If you want to learn properly, please consult a teacher!

Single consonants

The easiest of all the consonants is 'v' - because it is not used!

The next easiest are the ones pronounced as in English:

b as in bed

d as in dad

f as in fun

g as in golf (but not as in gym)

as in hand

as in kind

as in love 

as in mum

n as in no

p as in pet

s as in sun

 t as in tan

 w as in win

 y as in yes

The remaining consonants are pronounced as below:

c like the 'ts' sound in 'cats'

like combining the 'ts' sound in 'cats' with the 'y' sound in 'yes' to make 'tsy'

like the 'dz' sound in 'adds'

j like combining the 'dz' sound in 'adds' with the 'y' sound in 'yes' to make 'dzy'

like the 'r' in 'run', but keep the tongue further back in the mouth

x try pronouncing the 'ssie' sound harshly in the French word 'assiette'. Or try saying a normal 's' whilst holding the tongue closer to the roof of your mouth so that air has to be forced out.


ch as in church

sh as in shirt

zh like the 'j' sound in 'jam'

Single vowels

a is an open sound, like when you say 'Ah' for the dentist!

e can be approximated to the 'schwa' sound, e.g. the way 'e' is pronounced in the word 'taken'

i has two possible pronuncations:

  • in si, ci, zi and ri it is pronounced like the 'i' in 'sir'

Standard Chinese Tones