All will face the same problem when learning a new language - new vowels and consonants we have never use before. Not like German, French or English that has less than 30 litters to compose all words, Chinese has thousands of characters. One character in Chinese is not a letter in English. One character has its own meaning. We know how to read a new German word without looking up the dictionary while we can’t in Chinese. We use Pinyin(拼音) to annotate the sound of a Chinese character. Each Chinese character's sound has only one syllable which composed of one consonant (could be missing) at the beginning and one vowel at the end. There is no consonant at the end. There are about 400 syllables totally for all Chinese characters' Pinyin.
Besides new vowels and consonants, Chinese will give you a new challenge - tone. There are 4 tones in Pinyin (Mandarin). To whom new to tone, this means your new vowels will multiply 4 times. So there are about 1600 syllables totally.
Let me take the word 中国 for example. You should already know 中国 means China. The Pinyin of 中 is zhōng (I will only show you once. Next time I will write it as “zhong1” because the “o” with tone 1 symbol is too hard to input). The Pinyin of 国 is guó (guo2). 中 means center. 国 means country. Kings were always thinking they were center of the world like human thinking earth was center of the universe centuries ago. Let’s do some listening practice to know about what 4 tones are.
- 中[zhōng|zhong1]: means center. The audio is a recording of [zhong1] speaking by 4 people. I hope you have a better understanding by hearing different samples of the same sound.
- [zhóng|zhong2]: There is no Chinese character pronounce this sound. The audio plays [zhong1] [zhong2] [zhong3] [zhong4]
- 种[zhǒng|zhong3]: means seed. It can also be pronounced as [zhong4] when it means the verb plant.
- 众[zhòng|zhong4]: means many persons. 人 means one person. The character is like a human standing with two legs. 众 is composed of three 人. So it means many person. This is the essence of Chinese character, which draws the meaning of something in a square.
- 锅[guō|guo1]: means wok; pan
- 国[guó| guo2]: means country
- 果[guǒ|guo3]: means fruit
- 过[guò|guo4]: means pass
- [guo1 guo2 guo3 guo4]:
There is a kind of software called TTS (text-to-speech). And I am the author of an open source Chinese TTS – Ekho. So you can learn Chinese with my tool. Here is the procedure:
- open http://www.eguidedog.net/WebSpeech.php
- put Pinyins quoted by [] in the text area. For example: [[zhong1 zhong2 zhong3 zhong4 guo1 guo2 guo3 guo4]]
- choose Ekho Mandarin (yali) in the Language field. Only Ekho Mandarin voice supports reading Pinyin.
- Click “Speak” button
- You can also fill Chinese text in the text area to see its Pinyin by click “Show Phonetic Symbol” button or listen to its sound by click “Speak” button.