Learn Chinese

Reading Chinese with English Letters.    

Chinese is written in characters, not in English letters.  However, in order to write Chinese words for people who do not know characters, several spelling systems have been invented.

The kind of English-letter spelling system now used by the Chinese on mainland China is called Pinyin (pronounced peen een, with a silent y). PInyin is used to spell the sounds of the “common language” on China, which westerners call “mandarin Chinese.”

Another, older, system used to spell mandarin,still seen in many older western reference books, is called Wade-Giles.  (The Giles is pronounced Jiles). Here’s how to tell the difference between the two::
1) Pinyin uses x’s and q’s, but Wade-Giles does not.
2) Wade-Giles uses apostrophes (to indicate more forceful pronunciation) after some letters, but Pinyin does not.

Examples: Taiwan would be spelled as T’aiwan in Wade-Giles.  If Wade-Giles uses a T with no breathmark, the “t” is to be pronounced as a d.  For example, the food product Tofu is a Wade-Giles spelling.  The T does not have a breathmark, and  so it is pronounced like a d, so the correct way to pronounce it is doe-foo.  The Pinyin spelling for it is doufu. 

This website will introduce Chinese words using the Pinyin system.  Comparisons to Wade-Giles are sometimes included, as they are on the next page.  (Other systems are presented at the bottom of this page). 

You are invited to begin by clicking below on “2 — chart.” You can then read the rest of the pages in sequence by clicking on “go to next page” on the bottom of each page.  For your convenience, here is a table of contents of all the pages.  You are now on page one.
2 — chart
3 — letter a
4 — letter e
5 — letter i
6 — letter o
7 — letter u                                                                      

8 — letter y
9 — the tones                                                                   to 

10 — third tone details                                                     
  11 — combining i with an, and u with an and ang
12 — letter e and sound “en”                                            

  13 — combining i with ao                                                
  14 — contractions with letter “i”
15 — combinations with letter i
16 — combinations with uai and y
  17 — combination ong
18 — shopping
19 — combination yue
20 — combination yuan
21 — ren
22 — de and shi
23 — What Next?

How about Chinese at your school? Facts for school leaders

Are you teaching English?    Hints for teaching English to children   


More helps below:

Learning a new language       Overall Hints by Jim Found, 2-13-09: revised 6-11-16

Spend more time in review each day than you do on new material.

Take charge of your own progress – do not be limited to what is in the textbook.

Buy a different beginner’s textbook and learn from both at the same time. One often helps you get insights that you didn’t’ clearly understand in the other.

Buy computer software or apps for that language. Find videos on youtube. Type English in the left-hand panel of Google translate and read the version in your language in the right-hand panel. Press audio icon to hear it.

Use every avenue of learning – listening, speaking writing.

Listen to tapes, watch TV programs or DVD’s in that language.  Download youversion (churchtv) which has the Bible in every language,  and read well-known verses; some versions have audio.

Organize your self-learning in terms of being able to “do things.” Examples:

Being able to ask where something is.
Being able to buy a postage stamp
Being able to order a ticket

Read words in the context of sentences – don’t just memorize individual words. Why?
It will give you an automatic review of words that are used most frequently.
It will internally give you a richer definition of each word than you get from a dictionary.
Most words change their meanings slightly according to the way they are used.
You can only get this fuller range of meaning when you read entire sentences.

If you have a language partner, you could:
Point to places on a picture and have the person say the words.
Have the person describe what’s going on in a comic strip.
Do role playing: you are the customer, the language partner is the clerk.
Record what the person is saying, and listen to it often to improve your listening ability.

Other Countries

You may find names in the newspaper that are not spelled in pinyin. For example, if you are reading about Taiwan, a person with a mandarin Chinese name will usually be spelled using the wade-giles system. For example, a news article in 2015 mentioned someone named Hung Hsiu-chu. The “hs” shows you that it is a wade-giles spelling. If it were in pinyin, it would have been spelled “xiu.”  It is impossible to know whether the “ch” is pronounced as a “ch” or a “j,” because newspapers do not always include the breath-marks.  If a name in an article about TAiwan does not seem to be in pinyin or in wade-giles, it may be in the dialect of Chinese called “Taiwanese.”

If you are reading about Chinese people in Hong Kong or southeast Asia, you may be seeing names in the Cantonese dialect. These have a spelling system of their own, neither pinyin nor wade-giles. For example, the president of Singapore is Lee Hsien loong.  The double-o is used in spelling cantonese, but never seen in piniyin or wade-giles. An opposition leader in Hong Kong in 2015 was named Lee cheuk-yan.  The use of the k at the end of a word shows it is a cantonese name, because mandarin words do not end with hard consonants (the only consonants found at the end of mandarin words are n and ng). The leader of the nationalist Chinese during world war 2 was Chiang Kai-shek.  The ‘k” at the end shows that it is a cantonese name.  The characters of his name can also be pronunced in mandarin. It would then be spelled (in pinyin) as Jiang jie-shi.  That name spelled in wade-giles would be chiang chieh-shih.

ANOTHER WAY: There is another way to learn Chinese pronunciation based on symbols rather than English letters. This system will not help you to read names in English newspapers, but will help you develop excellent pronunciation. This system is used to teach elementary school children on Taiwan. The pages at this link are meant to be folded,so the left hand page goes to the back of the book. Go to link