Pinyin 拼音

4. Initials zh, ch, sh, r, w, y - 声母

A Mandarin syllable consists of three components: an initial, a final and a tone. Pinyin uses the same letters as the English alphabet except for the letter v plus the addition of ū. All of the consonants represent basically the same sound that they have in English with the following exceptions:

"zh," "ch," and "sh" are sometimes referred to as "retroflex" because they are pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled (or raised) to touch the roof of the mouth for "zh" and "ch", or close to but not touching the roof of the mouth for "sh." The difference between "zh" and "ch" lies in aspiration. "zh" is unaspirated (without air coming out of the mouth) whereas "ch" is aspirated (with air coming out of the mouth).

"r" in Chinese can be considered similar to "r" in English. The major difference is that "r" in Chinese is not a lip-rounding sound. The corners of the mouth should be pulled back except when "r" is followed by finals such as "u," "uo," "ui," "uan," "un," and "ong." It is the finals which need lip-rounding. When "r" is followed by "i" (in spelling), such as 日 , the "i" is not pronounced as a regular "i," but is only used to bring the quality of a vowel to "r."

It takes a lot of practice to get these initials sound correct, especially for zh, ch, sh since they are unique for Chinese. No other language has this way to speak. Also q, x, z, c are easily been confused with same letter in western languages.

Click to each pinyin below to listen to its sound and say it as close as you can. Pay attention to tones.

  zhā  zhá  zhǎ  zhà    zhē  zhé  zhě  zhè  zhe            zhī  zhí  zhǐ  zhì    zhū  zhú  zhǔ  zhù  zhu          
  chā  chá  chǎ  chà    chē    chě  chè              chī  chí  chǐ  chì    chū  chú  chǔ  chù            
  shā  shá  shǎ  shà  sha  shē  shé  shě  shè              shī  shí  shǐ  shì    shū  shú  shǔ  shù            
          ya                              yi          yu