Pronouncing Chinese


See also - the Kuei-Jin Mage Lexicon

See also - the Kuei-Jin Wraith Lexicon

And the Kuei-Jin Disciplines Page

Beautiful Asian PicChinese is a beautiful, musical language, and while the grammar itself isn't that difficult (if you can get used to no tenses), pronunciation is. In Mandarin Chinese (Gúo Yû) there are 4 tones (5, actually, if you count the no-tone). These tones are:

(1) High: Spoken high, with your voice neither rising nor falling. Somewhere between saying a high-note and actually singing it. In this Lexicon, the High tone words to do not have any special symbols (in Chinese, High tone is called "1st tone"). Ma(1) Ma(1) is the word for mother, and both syllables are 1st tone.
(2) Rising: You begin the word with your voice slightly lower than your normal speaking voice, and finish the word somewhere up near the High tone. This is called the 2nd tone, and in this Lexicon is represented with a rising slash over the middle of the word. For example, the word for country is written Gúo(2), using the2nd tone marker.
(3) Falling-Rising: You voice begins lower than 2nd tone, then falls, then rises in a drawn out way. 3rd tone is written, usually, with a small carrot symbol over the part of the word where the dip in your voice begins. Because of the limitations of my computer, this carrot is actually written upside-down over the words, but you get the idea. The 3rd tone word for language is Yû(3).
(4) Falling: The 4th tone is not a gentle falling in the way the 2nd tone is a gentle rising, but rather it's like saying the word with an exclamation mark! It is transliterated with a backwards down-slash over the word, as in the word for sell, Mài(4) (which is pronounced like a petulant child saying "My!" as in "My toy!").
(No-Tone): The so-called 5th tone is pronounced neither High nor Low nor Falling and is totally unstressed. It is usually written with small dot over the word, however you don't need to worry about this tone here (it is so similar in sound to the first tone that, unless you actually speak Chinese on a daily basis, you won't need to distinguish between the sounds).


a like a in father
e like e in her
i like ee in bee OR after c, s, z, ch, sh, zh, r like e her
o like aw in saw
u like oo in spoon
ou as in soul
ian like yen
ui like way


c like ts in its followed by a puff of air
ch like ch in church, but with your tongue making a slight r sound
g always like the g in give. Never soft, like in French.
h like the ch in the Scottish loch. (This is the hard-core Beijing dialect.)
j like j in jeer and strongly fronted.
q the same sound as the ch in cheap
r a cross between r and z, sounds like the s in pleasure
s like s in sit
sh similar to sh in shoe, but with a slight r sound (shr)
x like sh in sheep, but strongly fronted
y like y in yard
z like ds in lids
zh like j in jug, but with a slight r sound (zhr)


Everyday Expressions
Bù Hâo
Bad. Not good. Can be used very liberally regarding agreeablility or as a response to "how are you?".
Guo Lái
Come here. In casual conversation, people just say lái by itself.
Hái Kê Yî
Not bad. I'm getting by. A typical response to "how are you?".
OK. Literally "good." Can be used very liberally regarding agreeability or as a response to "how are you?" if used in conjunction with "thanks" (Hâo, Xiè Xiè).
Hâo Ma?
OK? Is that all right? Is (it) good?.
Hên Hâo
Very good.
Mâ Mâ Hû Hû
So-so. Literally "horse-horse tiger-tiger".
Nî Chr Fan Le Méi Yôu?
Have you eaten yet? This is the traditional, polite way to ask how someone is. If asked when the time to eat is near it implies an invitation to dine together.
Nî Hâo
Hi; hello.
Nî Hâo Ma?
How are you?
Tài Hâo Le
Great! You can also say Fei Cháng Hâo, which means "extremely good".
Tian ah!
Oh, my god. Jesus Christ! A common explicative.
Wân An
Good evening. Too formal for most people.
Wû An
Good afternoon. This is said infrequently. Rather, you should ask someone if they have eaten yet as afternoon is either just after lunch or just before diner depending on how you look at it.
Xiè Xiè
Thanks. A more formal way is Wô Xiè Nî ("I thank you"), or Xiè Xiè Nî ("thank you").
Zài Jiàn
Goodbye. Literally "see (you) again".
Zâo An
Good morning. Literally "it is early." Often just Zâo is said in passing.
Zôu Kai La!
Go away! Piss off! This is very forceful and connotes anger or annoyance.

Yes & No

There are no true words in Chinese for "yes" and "no." The closest you can get is Shì and Bú Shì, which literally mean "is" and "is not". However, of all the ways to express agreement/disagreement, these two are the least commonly used. Rather, the Chinese will restate the questioner's original interrogative verb, modifying it either for assent or dissent. For example, if someone were to ask you, "Do you have a car?" you would respond "Have" if you do and "Not Have" if you don't. Below are the most commonly asked yes/no verbs and the typical response to each:

"..., Yôu Mèi Yôu?" - Do you have or not? Yes - Yôu. No - Mèi Yôu.

"..., Hùi Bú Hùi?" - Can or can't? Yes - Hùi. No - Bú Hùi.

"..., Dùi Bú Dùi?" - Right or wrong? Yes - Dùi. No - Bú Dùi.

"..., Kê Bù Kê Yí?" - May or may not? Yes - Kê Yí. No - Bù Kê Yí.


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