China is a big country. Its population is diverse: 56 ethnic groups including Han, the - real - Chinese , which are the majority ethnic group. Each ethnic group has its own language (except the Hui but that's another story) and often with many variations that can move from the accent to the dialect.
Chinese have several major dialects, but they have such internal differences that people cannot understand each other from one city to another even in the same dialect group. To cope with such diversity, we need a common language: Mandarin. In Chinese it is said pǔtōnghuà literally language of general communication.
Chinese courses on this website are mandarin chinese courses.
Oral language and writing
Chinese language has a special charm which is also its difficulty: writing doesn't note pronunciation (or rarely and never accurately). We can learn to speak Chinese without knowing how to read or write. This course provides to learn to speak and write Chinese characters.
The phonetic transcription: pinyin
As Chinese writing does not notice the pronunciation, you have a phonetic transcription. Since the 1950s, the official Chinese phonetic transcription is the pinyin, which mean spell sound in Chinese. Before the 50s, each country had its own transcription. It is for this reason that the ancient books on China provides transcriptions of Chinese words that do not match the pinyin. Learn all the differences in pronunciation of pinyin and other language would be very tedious or impossible and totally discouraging for a beginner. It would not be very useful either. This Chinese course will present differences gradually.
Tones of pinyin
In Chinese, each character corresponds to a syllable. Chinese words are generally composed of one or two syllables, sometimes three, rarely four. Each syllable has a meaning. For example, the word hello nǐhǎo, nǐ means you and hǎo means
well. To say hello in Chinese, we want the caller to be well, as we want a good day in English.
In Mandarin Chinese, each syllable is pronounced. Ie it undergoes a change between the bass and treble. This is a difficult point for Western beginner. Perception (distinguish by ear) and realization (pronunciation) tones is acquired with practice and usually takes several months. You should therefore not be discouraged.
In Chinese, there are four distinct tones, we are talking about the four tones of Chinese. These four tones are noted with accents on each syllable. It may be that a syllable has no tone. This is called neutral tone.
Example of four tones + neutral tone with the syllable ma:
- 1st tone: mā妈 mom. This is the first high tone or high tone. Listen:
- 2nd tone: má麻 hemp. This is the second tone or rising tone. Listen:
- 3rd tone: mǎ马 horse. This is the third tone or low tone. Listen:
- 4th tone: mà骂 insult. This is the fourth tone or falling tone. Listen:
- 5th tone: ma吗 interrogative particle. It is placed at the end of a sentence to turn it into question. This is the fifth tone or neutral tone. This is due to the absence of tone. Therefore it is rarely called 5th tone. It is better to call it neutral tone. Listen:
Pinyin tones are noted on vowels. The choice of the vowel follows order of importance: a, o, e, u, i (except if i is before u). Example: mǎi, huā, jiā, dōu, shuō, què, suì, xiě jiǔ,....
Presentations of the pronunciation of the vocabulary of the first lesson
Vocabulary of lesson 1:
wǒ : I, me
nǐ : you
tā : he, him
hǎo : good, well
nǐhǎo : hello
hěn : very
ma : simple interrogative particle
ne : interrogative particle (used to return a question that the speaker has just been asked. Exemple Nǐ ne ? And you ?)
xièxie : thank you
bù : negation, no
zàijiàn : goodbye
Train yourself to repeat these words by imitating the voice recorded.
Notice about phonetic
In order to have a good pronunciation in Chinese, try to emulate as closely as possible the pronunciation of records. Above all, do not try to read the pinyin.
For tones, do not be overly concerned at first. You just repeat recordings trying to imitate the intonation.