Chinese Phonetics

Introduction to Pinyin

This lesson, accompanied by an audio file, will introduce you to the building blocks of the Chinese language. Hit the play button to start listening.


Chinese Characters, called “Hanzi”, are the writing symbols of the Chinese language. Pinyin is the Romanization of a phonetic notation for Chinese Characters. Each syllable is composed of three parts: initials, finals, and tones. In the Pinyin system there are 23 initials, 24 finals, 4 tones and a neutral tone.

b   p   m   f
d   t   n   l   g   k   h   j   q   x   z   c   s   zh   ch   sh   r   y   w

a   o   e   i   u   ü

ai   ei   ui   ao   ou   iu
ie   üe   er   an   en   in
un   ün   ang   eng   ing   ong

Tones play a very important role in Chinese. Each Chinese character has one tone, and the Chinese language has a total of four tones as well as one neutral tone. The same syllable with a different tone may have a different meaning.

  • The first tone is high and flat. Ā
  • The second tone rises from the middle to high. Á
  • The third tone curves from low to lower and then rises. ǎ
  • The fourth tone falls from the top to the bottom. à

Āi (hey), bái (white), ǎi (short), ài (love)
bā (eight), bá (pull), bǎ (grasp), bà (father)