Unlike the English language, Mandarin has a standardized spoken form which means that pronunciation is key in order to be properly understood. Correct Mandarin pronunciation includes not only saying words accurately but also using the correct tone when speaking. Listed below are several tips for improving your pronunciation when learning Mandarin online or in a classroom.
1. Utilize Pinyin
Written Mandarin uses characters and does not have a phonetic writing system; pinyin is a romanization system which transcribes Mandarin characters into roman letters. Utilizing pinyin as a Mandarin learner is essential for learning the pronunciation of Mandarin words. Do keep in mind that Mandarin vowels and consonants are not always a perfect match to their English counterparts. Take the word “chi” for example, which means “eat” in Mandarin Chinese. Many English speakers mispronounce the word as “chee” when it should sound a bit more like “chir” with a hidden ‘r’ on the end.
The shape your mouth makes when pronouncing Mandarin consonants affects their sound. Paying close attention to the mouth shape of a native speaker will help you nail down the correct pronunciation of various sounds. Watch the clip below to see how the consonants J, Q, and X are pronounced:
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2. Master Mandarin Tones
Mastering tones is key to correct Mandarin pronunciation but is one of the more intimidating tasks a native English speaker takes on when learning Mandarin. Mandarin is a tonal language and the tone used changes the meaning of a word. English does use tones as well, but English tones are often used to convey emotion or mood.
One strategy for mastering Mandarin tones is to pair them with English tonal counterparts. Take the word ‘maybe,’ for example. When English speakers respond to a question and do not want to give a definitive answer, they will usually pronounce the first syllable of ‘maybe’ in a high, flat tone. The high, flat tone we use to pronounce ‘maybe’ is very similar to Mandarin’s first tone. When pronouncing anything in Mandarin’s first tone, imagine you are saying ‘maybe.’ For additional tips on pairing Mandarin tones with corresponding English words, watch the clip below:
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3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Try reading aloud with an audio recording of one of your course materials! This will help you get used to the shapes your mouth must make to form Mandarin sounds and how to move from one word to the next. Additionally, you will obtain a better understanding of the rhythm native Mandarin speakers use in their speech. Repeated listening to Mandarin audio recordings will also help you grasp the standard accent used.
The more often you practice speaking your Mandarin pronunciations, the more comfortable you will be. We form muscle memory when talking, so making a habit of speaking aloud will help develop and strengthen your mouth shape when learning any foreign language.
Importantly, do not be afraid to make mistakes when pronouncing a new word or phrase in Mandarin! With the help of a native speaking instructor, mistakes can be turned into learning opportunities to help a student get their pronunciation right.
Improve Your Skills with Online Mandarin Courses
There is no better way to learn proper Mandarin pronunciation than from a native Mandarin speaker themselves. When you enroll in online Mandarin classes with LanguageBird, you benefit from practicing speech with a true expert who can provide you with pronunciation coaching in real time. Our one-to-one classes equip students with the skills to master foreign languages and speak with confidence.