Introduction to Pinyin

Introduction to Pinyin

Free Preview
You must first complete Learning Chinese is Interesting, Valuable, and Fun before viewing this Lesson

Before we dive into learning vocabulary words, sentences, and grammar lets learn about the different parts of a Chinese word.


A long time ago learning Chinese as a second language was almost impossible, but China’s government desired for others around the world to learn Chinese. Being able to communicate with other countries would benefit their trades deals, politics, peace treaties, and much more. The problem at the time was that their language seemed to others as only consisting of unfamiliar characters and various unique sounds with no systematic structure in their language to follow and learn through. They realized their biggest dilemma was that Chinese was a language WITHOUT an established alphabet. So in 1958, Zhou Youguang was recruited by the government to romanize the Chinese writing system.

Romanize- assign letters to the sounds in the Chinese language

Leaving us today with what we call PINYIN which literally means spell-sounds. 

Pinyin is spelling how the Chinese character sounds. Simply put, pinyin is the pronunciation of the character.

Character: 你好

[native speakers write the character, not the pinyin]

Pinyin: Nǐ hǎo

[used to learn how to pronounce the character]


Pinyin is used for learning how to pronounce a character, so within pinyin we find what we would call the alphabet for Chinese. Keep in mind that Chinese still doesn’t necessarily have an alphabet in the sense that English speakers view an alphabet, but the pinyin system that was created ended up establishing the closest thing we would classify as an “alphabet” for Chinese. The good news is that as an English speaker you already know over half of the sounds used in pinyin. In this class we will conquer the rest together!

Quick Note: When you are typing Chinese on a computer, tablet, phone, etc. it is impossible to have a button for every single Chinese character, right? That is correct! The second valuable purpose of pinyin other than knowing how a character is pronounced is… typing. When you type out the pinyin, Chinese character options pop-up. You then choose which particular character you are searching for.


Now that we are more familiar with the purpose of pinyin, let’s talk about a few more aspects involved when learning a Chinese word. There are four aspects you need to know for every Chinese word:

the character, tone, pinyin, and meaning.

Today we are focused on learning about pinyin, in later lessons we will focus on each aspect.


  Character – 你好

Pinyin and Tones – Nǐ hǎo

Meaning – Hello




Can you point out the characters, tones, pinyin, and English meaning in this picture?


Study/Practice Material:

Below is a link from a company called Yoyo Chinese. In the link you will find an interactive pinyin chart (the Chinese “alphabet”) that shows how every pinyin sound is pronounced. Many are familiar sounds to native English speakers, but there are still sounds in Chinese that will be unique sounds to you. Spend as much time listening and repeating those particular sounds out loud as needed. Enjoy exploring their chart, and repeat the pronunciations as you explore to practice your speaking!

Please visit the Yoyo Chinese site on your own time throughout this course to explore and study the different sounds in Chinese as well as train your ear to hear the different tones. This is also a great reference to use if you are having troubles pronouncing a certain word or sound. I highly recommend YoyoChinese!

Pronunciation Spotlight:

The “r” sound in the Chinese language is the most difficult sound for English learners to achieve. When pronouncing a word containing the “r” sound, roll your tongue up and have the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Then slightly round your lips. Help your mouth get use to this position by making a buzzing noise like a bee. This sound is the beginning of the “r” sound in Chinese.

Back to: Beginner Chinese 1