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Introduction to pinyin – pinyin alphabet guide for children

By LingoAce Curriculum Team |US |May 2, 2022

Learning Chinese

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Pronunciation is a vital part of learning any language. In order to learn Mandarin Chinese well, it is important to have a good grasp of its pronunciation. In the case of many languages, children can look at the words and understand how to pronounce them. 

However, this is not the case with Mandarin Chinese, as it is not phonetic. Thus, the Pinyin system was developed. Pinyin is a Chinese alphabet system that helps learners understand how to pronounce Mandarin Chinese characters. It transcribes characters into Chinese alphabets that can be easily pronounced. This will help children to learn how to speak Mandarin Chinese.  

The Pinyin system is also used to enter Mandarin Chinese characters into electronics or computers. 

Pinyin was developed to explain Mandarin Chinese to people around the world. During the rule of the Qing dynasty, the Chinese people decided to introduce a spelling system in their language. The Chinese government recognized it as a form of language in the 1950s after it became part of a project led by Zhou Youguang and other linguists. From there on, it was popularized and introduced to children. This was done to improve the literacy rates in the country. This also helped in standardizing the way Chinese characters can be pronounced.  


The Pinyin system 

  • The Pinyin system differs from American and European languages. In these languages, vowels and consonant letters form the basis of the language.  

  • However, in the Pinyin system, initials and finals constitute the fundamental elements of the language. These are a cluster of letters. 

  •  Each Mandarin Chinese character has its syllable. Each syllable is written with an initial followed by a final.  

For example, the ba sound consists of the initial b- and the final -a. Most initials are consonants like p, m and b. The finals include vowels like a, e, i, o, u. But some finals also have ing or an at the end. 

  • The Mandarin Chinese system consists of 21 initials, two semi-vowels, 36 finals, one light tone and four basic tones.   


There are 21 initials, 36 finals, two semi-vowels, four basic tones, and one light tone in the Chinese Pinyin system. 

The initials 

The Pinyin system consists of the following initials 

b, p, m, f ,d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s  

The finals  

Simple finals 

a, o, e, i, u, ü 

Compound finals 

ai, ao, an, ang, ou, ong 

ei, en, eng, er, ia, iao 

ian ,iang, ie, iu, in, ing 

iong, ua, uai, uan, uang, uo 

ui, un, ue, uan, un  


The main finals are the a, e, i, o, u, ü 

The final is the most critical component of a syllable in the Pinyin system. It is impossible to create a syllable without the presence of a final. However, the final can act as an independent syllable without an initial.  


  • In Mandarin Chinese, the tone of the language has a significant influence on conveying the message’s meaning.  

  • The language is tonal. The tone of the Mandarin Chinese language makes it distinctive and unique. It is essential to learn the tones of the language as it can also become a source of miscommunication. There is one neutral and four main tones in Mandarin Chinese.  

  • The tones are the  

  1. First tone 

  2. Second tone 

  3. Third tone 

  4. Fourth tone 

  5. Neutral tone 

  • The mark of a tone is placed above the final, i.e. the vowel and never on the initial (consonant). Each tone has a distinct pitch contour. This changes the meaning of the information being passed on.  

  • The first tone has a high but level sound. This tone is prolonged. The representation involves drawing a straight horizontal line. E.g.bā. 

  • The second tone has a rising level from lower to higher level. The representation involves placing a diagonal line, e.g.bá.  

  • The third tone has the pitch going down then rising upwards. This is represented by a line falling then rising, e.g.bǎ. 

  • The fourth tone has a pitch that starts very high but falls very short. This is represented by a dropping diagonal line, e.g.bà.  

  • The neutral tone is pronounced quickly and lightly. This does not have any tone mark. 


Mandarin Chinese is different from the English Language. The English language does not have tones like the Chinese language.  

  • In the case of Mandarin Chinese, sometimes the words will have the same initial and final. Nevertheless, their meaning will be different because of their tones.  

  • This can be observed with many Chinese characters. Some Chinese characters with the same initial and final but different meanings are:  

mā- mother 

má- fibre 

mǎ- horse 

mà- curse 

ma- question mark

Tone rules 

  1. If the syllable has a single vowel, the tone mark is on the vowel. For example: zhī (know), tīng (listen). 

  2. Suppose the syllable has multiple vowels and the first vowel is a medial (i, u). In that case, the tone mark should be placed on the vowel immediately after it. For example: jiāo(teach), jiǔ (九; nine) 

  3. If the syllable has multiple vowels and the first vowel is not a medial, then the tone mark is present on the first vowel. For example: hǎi (sea), zhǎo (look for). 

  4. Sometimes, the two syllables of Pinyin can also be written separately (with a space) to create clarity if the word has two characters.  


The Pinyin system enables children to learn the correct pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, making learning Mandarin Chinese a fun experience. The system is different from the English language. It consists of initials and finals. The learner can gain a good grasp of the language by correctly learning how to pronounce it. This requires continuous practice. Thus, children should not be made to skip this course as it is essential to understand Mandarin Chinese. Many people skip learning the Pinyin system because they presume it to be too easy. But, this can create miscommunication and problems later on. The Pinyin system will also teach children the tone of the language. This is a distinctive feature of Mandarin Chinese and will help them to communicate effectively. 


Sign up for a free trial lesson with us today to help your child get immersed in the Mandarin Chinese language through a unique and carefully designed learning journey.  

At LingoAce, we prepare lessons for your child which goes through careful rounds of quality control, as we want to make sure that your child goes through an engaging and high-quality learning experience. 

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Our team members have backgrounds in pedagogy, educational psychology, and linguistics. Certain members have over 10 years of experience in teaching, research, foreign language learning, and educational theory. They understand the characteristics of children aged 3-15. They've worked with well-known Chinese education institutions and had experience with teaching and curriculum design. They excels at producing interactive and highly engaging content that is aligned to local learning needs.​