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1: Chinese Characters - Introduction
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
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
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
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.