400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese

How to use this resource

1. Find a native speaker of Chinese, preferably one who speaks standard Mandarin, and of the same gender.

2. Ask the speaker to pronounce each of these characters one by one.

3. Shadow the speaker with your own attempts at pronunciation, trying to sound as similar to them as possible.

4. Circle any pronunciations you have difficulty imitating and practice these daily until you sound closer to your native speaker friend.

5. For better results, record your session and play it back later to ‘hear’ the difference between your utterances and that of your friend.

6. When in doubt, listen to the mp3 recording.

I have chosen these 400 characters because they make up virtually all sounds in Mandarin – excluding, of course, variations in tone. This resource is best used as a quick diagnostic tool for learners of Chinese who wish to figure out which sounds they need to work on. Enjoy!


Links to PDFs

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Simplified Chinese Version)

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Traditional Chinese Version)


Audio Recordings

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Male Voice)

400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese (Female Voice)

5 Comments to "400 Unique Sounds in Mandarin Chinese"

  1. Ben K's Gravatar Ben K
    01/04/2016 - 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Carl, why can’t I download the PDF and audio files? “Waiting for available sockets…” Chrome says. Cheers.

  2. Bo Yuan's Gravatar Bo Yuan
    08/05/2016 - 2:28 am | Permalink

    Just want to make a small suggestion that you find a native Chinese speaker from Northern Chinese family. For some reason Southern Chinese had trouble pronouncing many of the Pinyin “initials”, even if they lived in the north area (e.g. Beijing) for some time. This is not a knock on them.

  3. 王比尔's Gravatar 王比尔
    02/06/2016 - 4:05 am | Permalink

    Every speaker has idiosyncrasies that constitutes their idiolect. In response to the comment above I think these are some things to consider when the male speaker pronounces the Chinese words.
    -in the recording, fricatives such as s, sh, f and h are pronounced really breathy and not as strongly as their standard dialect counterparts.
    -the male speaker has some difficulty pronouncing the -sh initial. sometimes he leads with an s and ends up with an sh. sometimes he sounds as if he is pronouncing an english sh (palato-alveolar) instead of a chinese sh (retroflex).
    -his h initial is not pronounced correctly. the place of articulation for chinese h is the same as k and g. it is similar to german ich. instead he is pronouncing it simlar to english h.
    -chinese differentiates consonants by aspiration and non-aspiration, not voiced or voiceless. the speaker voices his plosives frequently which only appears as an allophone.
    -the male speaker pronounces his n oddly. it sounds like an n->ng sound.
    I have no problem understanding him. However, I think in order to provide an instructional recording of chinese initials, someone who is trained in public speaking would be a better candidate. However, if your intent is to just give an idea of what Chinese initials sound like then this is completely fine. I would also like to say that I apologize if I seem like I am nitpicking at trivial details. Language is constantly changing and to say one way of pronunciation is more standard or more correct would be wrong.

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