Chinese Pronunciation

I noticed recently that there’s a lot of bad information out there on the web about the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese. So I created this new section on Sinosplice to address the issue. It’s quite long, and I think it’s quite thorough and accurate. This is for the people that are having trouble mastering the harder consonant sounds of Mandarin like q, x, and j.

Please let me know what you think or if you find it helpful.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Hunger finds no fault with cookery. (c)

  2. I realize this isn’t a very easy question to answer, but I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts. What are your feelings are about explicit pronunciation correction and guidance? Do you find it useful for yourself? Do you find it useful in teaching?

    Back when I was a linguistics major at UC Boulder, I felt there was quite a bet of indoctrination against explicit correction not only of grammar, but also of pronunciation. I’ve found some of Krashen’s input hypothesis ideas extremely useful, but I haven’t ever been able to achieve great results with input alone. Both as a teacher and as a student, I’ve always needed to use explicit correction and imitation in order to get optimal results. As a result, my ideas have changed. As I’m sure you’ve seen, I’ve been attacked in more than one blog recently due, in part, to the fact that I DO support quite a bit of overt pronunciation coaching.

    I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked at one school long enough to take any kids from ABCs to basic communicative competence (i.e. enough to study abroad). If you have, have you had any students who acquired a reasonably clear accent without using explicit correction? Were you ever able to achieve a near native accent in other languages you studied (such as Japanese or Spanish) without consciously thinking about the pronunciation?

  3. Mark,

    Personally, I like it too. When I first got to China, I sought out a tutor that would give me explicit guidance in Chinese pronunciation, and it helped me immensely. (When I hire tutors, I’m pretty much always the “this is how you’re going to help me” kind of student, giving out all the orders.)

    Regarding both my acquisition of Chinese and my acquisition of Spanish, I feel I would have taken forever to pick up some of the sounds without explicit correction (especially for some of the subtler pronunciation differences between English and Spanish).

    I’ve never had a teaching position where I taught the kids like that. When I taught kindergarteners, it was at most once a week for an hour each time, which is not enough to see the kind of progress you’re talking about. Most of my experience has been with college kids. Still, I find that many people do appreciate explicit correction, and obviously benefit from it. In my experience, students usually make it quite clear whether they want it or not.

    As for your last question… no.

  4. John,

    I have a question about the pronunciation of 血 and 谁 – some pronounce it as ‘xie’ instead of ‘xue’ and ‘shei’ instead of ‘shui’ respectively. Do you know what the standard pronunciation is?

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