Sensible Pinyin Course : Medium Consonants
This is part of our Sensible Pinyin Course. To see an overview of the course check out this Sensible Pinyin Course homepage!
Pinyin we’ll going to cover this time – g, k, h, j, q, x.
This section introduces some of the more difficult consonant final sounds. These are similar to sounds found in English but just different enough to cause a little difficulty.
We’ll start with the relatively easy g, k and h sounds then move to j, q, x (remember those from the section on ü?). For now we’ll stick to the basic vowel sounds we’ve already covered.
g – g as in go, gate, girl, guest.
ga , ge , gu
As in English but no vibration in the vocal cords (back of throat). Hold your fingertips where the jaw meets the neck, around where your glands are.
Try saying the English k and g. Notice that the g has vibration but the k does not. The Chinese g is closer to the English k because of this – the different is that there is no exhalation. The Chinese g is therefore close to the English k but without the exhalation.
Again, to test if you are exhaling hold your hand in front of your mouth as you pronounce the sound.
k – “kuh” as in kill or cut.
ka , ke , ku
With k we are starting to stray from English equivalences. Remember though that we should use native recordings as our guide rather than rely on English equivalences!
The k sound requires more air pressure from your diaphragm (upper chest). Focus on violently pushing out the air – you might even feel your stomach muscles pulling in to help force out the air. Do this 100 times for a great for an abdominal workout! Short and quick sound.
The pronunciation is similar to the hard c in color or cut.
h – “huh” – like the h in him but with more friction in the throat approaching (but not as harsh as) the Scottish loch.
ha, he , hu
As with the k the Chinese h requires a strong push of air from the diaphragm. Keep the sound short, quick and violent. Focus on making it audible and stronger.
j: “jee” as in joke, gee, churchyard but with tongue nearer the teeth.
ji , ju
Ok! Here we go – you know we are moving out of the realm of English equivalences when I suggest the chy in the middle of churchyard!
J is similar to how we say the letter G, “gee”, but drawn out like you are saying “geez!”.
The tongue is towards the front of the mouth, the tip touching the ridge behind the lower teeth.
In the English J the tip of the tongue is higher, touching the alveolar ridge behind the top front teeth. Put your tongue on the back of your front teeth and move up- that hard “ridge” is the alveolar ridge. For the Chinese J (unlike the English J) your tongue should not be touching this ridge. It should be lower, towards the lower teeth.
This tongue position is the key to J, Q and X in Chinese. All use the same mouth position so once you nail one the others are simple alterations.
q: “ch” as in cheese, cheap, punchyourself.
qi , qu
Slightly widening mouth with teeth together, like the beginning of cheese.
The tongue is towards the front of the mouth, tip of the tongue resting behind the ridge of the lower front teeth whilst the middle part of the tongue pushes up against the hard palate. Force a puff of air out as you loosen the tongue away from the top of the mouth.
Q is similar to J (see above) but with a forceful exhalation. Therefore J is similar to Q but without exhalation. See, we’re getting into the weird letters now!
Remember when you were bored dealing with the easy b, p, m letters. Shouldn’t have complained about being bored huh?
X: soft “she”. Pushyourself, church.
No equivalent in English – somewhere between the English s and sh. Close to English “she” but with longer and softer pronunciation, allowing more air to escape.
Also close to the English church but with out the hard “t” sound (”tchurch”) that appears in church
The front of the tongue should rest behind the lower front teeth, with the middle part of the tongue toward the hard palate above.
Notice a pattern here? j, q, x all have the same tongue position at the front of the mouth.
This is the reason they can only be used with ü. The ü noise is also at the front of the mouth, whereas the u is further back in the mouth. This makes these initials plus the consonant u awkward to pronounce so they are used with ü instead. Remember also that we always write jü, qü, xü as ju, qu and xu. If you need a reminder check the previous lesson on u vs. ü.
As before with the listening quiz listen and choose what you heard from the multiple choice selection. Use the pinyin table below to help until you feel comfortable enough – then do the test blind.