Zh, ch, sh! -- Pinyin Tips for Mastering Chinese Pronunciation

Pinyin is a vital part of Chinese study; it plays a critical role in the first stage of your learning in terms of reading and talking, and therefore hearing and understanding.


Keep in mind that Chinese is a totally different language from almost every other language in the world. It is not realistic to expect yourself to pick up all the exact sounds straight away since accents from first languages are hard to overcome.

The examples here are just a clue to follow when one is unsure of the right pronunciation. Remember, “practice makes perfect”.

A frustrating pair of words is “jiao” and “zhao”, with these two usually causing students great confusion. They mean respectively “to be called” (with the 4th tone) and “look for” (with the 3rd tone). “Wo zhao Mark” means “I look for mark” while “Wo jiao Mark” means “my name is Mark”.

Totally different huh? Here, the main difference between these two is in the “j” and “zh” sound. Simply, “j” is a consonant made by retroflexed tongue.

This requires you to turn your tongue backwards, like the pronunciation of the first part of English letter J. If J is notated by Pin yin, it will be “zh+ei”.Therefore, try to pronounce the word “James”; the first part of the J sound is the pronunciation of “zh”.

Tricks like this are small, but prove to be extremely useful for students, whether their mother tongue is Japanese or English.

Another big hurdle for Japanese speakers in pinyin study is to distinguish “zh/ch/sh” from “j/q/x”. Generally, “j/q/x” are relatively easy to pronounce since they sound close to “ji/chi/si” in Japanese.

But it is hard to make correlations between “zh/ch/sh” and syllables in the Japanese phonetic system. Therefore, Japanese students often find it frustrating to pronounce these three correctly.

As such, here are some tips to help: “zh”, as we mentioned in the previous paragraph, sounds like the first part of English letter J. as for “ch” and “sh”, try to pronounce “chase” and “shape”.

The first part of these two English words is similar to Pinyin “ch” and “sh” respectively. (from iMandarin)

Master the sounds of pinyin