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Learn Mandarin Using Phonetic English

Aug 17, 2007
By using English phonics, you can eliminate many of the complications of learning to speak Mandarin. Native English speakers no longer need to trudge through the old fashioned and ineffective Wade-Giles method, or struggle with the current, but just as difficult Pinyin Chinese to speak Mandarin. There's an easier way! Words and phrases can be sounded out exactly the same way we learned to read and speak English in grade school.

The Romanization of Chinese Characters
Mandarin Pinyin is called Putonghua, or The Common Language, and is widely used throughout China. Its four tones, level, rising, falling, and high rising, distinguish many words and syllables with the same consonants and vowels but with different meanings. It deciphers the Chinese characters and symbols into a Romanized alphabet, eliminating the abstract strokes completely unrecognizable to foreigners.

Prior to the use of Pinyin, westerners depended upon the Wade-Giles Romanization system that was initially invented to simplify Chinese characters into their English counterparts. British scholar Sir Thomas Francis Wade created the method, and it was later modified by Herbert Allen Giles in 1912, and it became the preferred transliteration method among scholars. But what it truly gave the western world was a systematic and consistent method of butchering the Chinese language through mispronunciations for more than a half century. Why did it fail so miserably? Learners of Mandarin relied upon the pronunciation guide, but were seldom educated properly on how the system worked. Inevitably, most words were grossly mispronounced.

Other attempts were made to integrate a Latin alphabet for the Mandarin language during the 1920's and 30's, but most were unsuccessful. Finally, in 1985, the Pinyin Romanization system officially replaced the Wade-Giles method. The Chinese government's commitment to promote a standardized Latin alphabet for westerner and the country's minorities promoted the adoption of Pinyin Putonghua, and it is used extensively throughout the country.

Unfortunately, native English speakers who study Mandarin quickly discover that many of the vowels and consonants used in Pinyin are pronounced differently than their English counterparts. This means that English speakers, who have been trained since primary school to sound out words phonetically, first need to learn Pinyin in order to speak correctly and clearly in Chinese.

A Better Way
The good news is that there is an easier and faster way of learning Mandarin. Native English speakers can by-pass Pinyin and immediately concentrate on reading and speaking Chinese by using the familiar English phonics system. For example, the Chinese word for 'next', when written in Pinyin is: xi ay i ge. Using English phonetics, you would say: shee-ah ee guh. Congratulations! You have just pronounced the word correctly! So as you can see, if you are searching for a simple way to speak Chinese effectively, the English phonetic system makes the learning process an easily attainable goal.
About the Author
Timothy Green is the co-author of SPEAK E-Z CHINESE In Phonetic English. You can find fun and easy Mandarin lessons, as well as great travel and culture tips about China at
The Cathay Cafe
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