Mandarin Chinese Hanyu Pinyin “b,” “d,” and “g” Can Fool You

When I first started learning Mandarin Chinese, I pronounced the hanyu pinyin  ‘b,’ ‘d,’ and ‘g’ like the way we say them at the beginning of words in English like ‘boy,’ ‘dog,’ and ‘got.’  However, the first university I taught at was called ‘Tunghai’, written ‘Donghai’ in pinyin.  Taipei is written ‘Taibei’ in hanyu pinyin.

However, after a little linguistics training and some thinking, I realized the ‘d’ in Donghai and and the ”b’ in Taibei were not English initial d’s and b’s.  Let’s take ‘t’ for example. In English as well as in some Chinese words, ‘t’ is pronounced the English way.  It is voiceless (no throat rattle), but aspirated (might blow out a small candle).  On the other hand, “d” in English is voiced (throat rattle) and not aspirated (will not affect a small candle flame).  They are both made in the same area of the mouth.

However, the ‘t’ in Tunghai and well as the ‘d’ in Donghai, are t’s without the aspiration.  They sound like the light English “d” that you might hear in ‘later’ or ladder.”  Therefore, English has the sound in the middle of words, and that is where you can begin practicing them.

The same goes for ‘b’ as is ‘baba.’  It is not the ‘b’ in boy.  It is the ‘b’ in ‘rubber’ or ‘robber.”  The ‘g’ is as in ‘gege” in the ‘g’ in ‘goat.’  It is the ‘g’ in ‘logger’ or ‘beggar.’

So if you are speaking Chinese with English ‘b,’ ‘d’, and ‘g,” your Chinese sounds heavy!  LIGHTEN UP!

You may find Video A and Video B useful.

Pronouncing ‘c’ and ‘z’ in Chinese

I couldn’t pronounce “c” and “z” until I learned linguistics.  Then, I realized that English had both of these sounds, not at the beginning of a word, but at the end.  For example, “states” or “its” end with the pinyin “c.”   To say “cai”, the Chinese word for “vegetable,” I just said “i–ts” + “ai” = “cai.”   The same can be done with “z.”  It occurs in English also, “reads.”