Chinese Basics


Chinese or Hànyǔ (汉语) is the native language of the Han nationality of China. The Han people constitute more than 90% of the population of China, native speakers of Chinese form the largest speech community in the world!

Chinese uses characters. You can check out the most frequently used Chinese characters at the website link here. If you learn 100 characters you will be able to understand 42% of spoken Chinese! The pronunciation of a character includes a syllable and a tone. Tone is the use of pitch to distinguish lexical or grammatical meanings. There are four tones in Chinese, but some characters do not have tones.

Pinyin is used to represent the pronunciation of each character. The alphabet for pinyin consists of 26 English letters, among them the letter V is only used to spell foreign names and the other 25 are used for characters. A syllable contains an initial and a final. The initial is the beginning consonant of a syllable, whereas the final is the simple or compound vowel of a syllable. For example, “” is pronounced hǎo with h being the initial and ɑo being the final. The mark (ˇ) over a in ao is the tone.

To practice your pronunciation of tones, check out this website here. The most important function of the tone is to differentiate meanings represented by the characters, so different tones will lead to different characters with different meanings. For instance:

character pinyin English
ma question particle

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