Chinese / Mandarin lessons

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Lesson 1:  Chinese Characters - Introduction


Click in the arrow to listen how to pronounce the word in Mandarin



Lesson 1: Chinese Characters - Introduction



汉 字 han4 zi4   


The two characters above mean “Chinese Characters”.  Chinese Characters are the founding block/unit of Chinese language, because one or more Chinese characters form words, phrases, and sentences, etc.  


The number of Chinese characters can be a little overwhelming, but it helps keep Chinese overall a simply structured language.

We start by discussing the pronunciation of Chinese Characters.  There are two aspects of Chinese characters’ pronunciation to learn about.

1. Phonics - Pinyin


Invariably, each Chinese character's pronunciation is either a consonant followed by one or two vowels (always in this order) or one or two vowels only.  In an analogy, Chinese characters all sound a bit like "La", "Di", "Da".

And generally the pronunciation of each Chinese character lasts about the same length in a sentence.  So roughly, a Chinese sentence sounds like "he saw me", "I know you", or "who can sing?", if read flatly.


The phonics system for Chinese characters is called Pinyin.  We will introduce Pinyin in much detail starting from Class 3.


2. Four Tones

Each Chinese character has one vowel, and each vowel, in turn, has a tone with it.  Many characters should have different tones for different meanings, but most have unique tones in all situations.


There are 5 possible tones: 4 major tones and a "light" tone.  Conventionally, the major tones are labeled as following.

Tone 1: flat

Tone 2: up

Tone 3: curve

Tone 4: down


The 5th tone is called "light" tone, which has no number as label.  Characters with light tone should be pronounced light and fast, the only exceptions to the previous rule that all characters in a sentence lasts about the same long.

We will introduce how to pronounce the four tones in the next class.  It is important to remember that Chinese character’s tone has nothing to do with its meaning.