Pinyin is essential and most fundamental knowledge for all serious Chinese learners. If you are learning Chinese, no matter if you are a beginner or an advanced learner, you shall be aware of paramount importance of Pinyin. Good knowledge in Pinyin can greatly help you express yourself more clearly; it can also help you in archiving better listening comprehension. Before learning how to read, write, or pronounce Chinese characters, you must learn pinyin first.
Pinyin or Pin Yin is a short for Hanyu Pinyin, which literally means "spelled sound" (phonetics). Pin means "spelling" and Yin means "sound". Pinyin is a system of Romanization (phonemic notation and transcription to Roman script) for Mandarin Chinese. Pinyin was approved in 1958 and adopted in 1979 by the government in the People's Republic of China.
Since then, Pinyin has been accepted by the Government of Singapore, the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and most international institutions as the preferred transcription system for Mandarin Chinese. In 1979 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard Romanization for modern Chinese (ISO-7098:1991).
Pinyin uses Roman letters to represent sounds in Mandarin Chinese. The way these letters represent sounds in Mandarin Chinese differs from how other languages that use the Roman alphabet represent sound. 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 some exceptions. For example, the sounds indicated in Pinyin by ‘b’ and ‘p’ are distinguished from each other by aspiration in a manner different from that of both English, which has voicing and aspiration, and of French, which has voicing alone. Other letters like ’j’, ‘q’, ‘x’ or ‘zh’ indicate sounds that do not correspond to any exact sound in English. Some of the transcriptions in Pinyin such as ‘ang’, do not correspond to English pronunciation, either. Pinyin has also become a useful tool for entering Chinese language text into computers.
Tips for Learning Pinyin
- Chinese is not a phonetic language. Chinese pronunciation is not related to the writing of Chinese characters.
- "Pinyin", "Hanyu Pinin" or “Chinese Pinyin" is a way to use Roman letters to represent the pronunciation of the Chinese characters.
- Pinyin does not represent English pronunciation and should not be pronounced according to English conventions. You are advised to learn Pinyin phonetic conventions, bearing in mind that many sounds have no equivalents in English.
- Since Pinyin is based only on the sounds of Mandarin Chinese, Pinyin is unsuitable for use for speakers of some other Chinese spoken dialects, because the sounds do not correspond to their speech.
- There are many homonyms in mandarin Chinese. Pinyin can be ambiguous, especially when transcribing Standard Written Chinese, which uses formal constructions not often found in speech. However, this should not be an issue in the transcription of normal spoken Mandarin conversation since speakers would not use such ambiguous constructions in speech.
- One more important note on Pinyin is that each syllable represents one character, because each character in Chinese has only one syllable.
- When learning Chinese Pinyin and the tones, we recommend you pronounce LOUDLY with the recording each time you hear one.
Pinyin is the basic foundation for learning Chinese. Are you on the right track for learning Chinese? If you develop a bad pronunciation habit, it will be very difficult to make a correction.
Please refer to Pinyin Course - Learn Pinyin in 21 days to learn more about Pinyin.
If you are interested in learning Chinese, please take a look at the Free Chinese Lessons that are practical and fun.