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An unorthodox course in spoken Chinese: Bending the rules in order to make it easier to study Pinyin 
Introduction | Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7 | Section 8  

 Learn Chinese pinyin (final section)  
- Section 8: Pronounce c, ch, q as ch' (aspirated)

Example 1: qing3 bie2 chou1 yan1  (Please do not smoke)
Example 2: ce4 suo3  (WC or Toilet)

Bravo! Congratulations for having come this far. If you have "survived" Section 7 you should be able to tackle this section without any difficulty as the letters c, ch, q represent the same ch sound as in Section 7 except that they are aspirated (ch with the apostrophe in the heading is intended to represent the aspirated ch). In fact before pinyin came into existence in 1958 there was already a romanized system of spelling for Chinese (I started with this system actually). This was called the Wade-Giles system. In a way it is much easier for students who are used to the English alphabet. This is because the same alphabet is used for both aspirated and non-aspirated sounds, an apostrophe indicating that a consonant is aspirated, that's all. Thus the pairs of similar sounds in pinyin, namely, b/p, d/t, g/k, j/q become p and p', t and t', k and k', ch and ch'.
In this section we are concerned mainly with the aspirated ch sound. You find this sound in the words qing3, chou1 and ce4 in the two examples given above.

Comparing j and q is like comparing ch and ch'

Try to see (or rather hear) the difference between jiao3    (the foot) or jiao4    (to call out) and qiao2    (a bridge). You might be wondering why I said in the sub-heading above that comparing j and q is like comparing ch and ch'. Actually under the Wade-Giles system that I talked about above jiao3 is spelt chiao3 (non-aspirated ch) while qiao2 is written ch'iao2 (aspirated ch).
Another example of the aspirated ch sound is qu4    previously spelt ch'u4, meaning "to go" as in the sentence wo3 bu2 qu4    (I'm not going).
In fact under the Wade-Giles system ch is used for BOTH j and zh while ch' is used for BOTH q and ch lending support to my contention that there is no real difference between j and zh on the one hand and between q and ch on the other. It does make a slight distinction for z and c though, replacing them with ts and ts'. This is just for the historical background.
Compare jian and qian:
jian3 dan1    (simple)
shi2 jian1    (time)
qian1    (thousand)
qian2    (money)
By the way "lucky money" that is given to children during the Chinese New Year festival is called ya1 sui4 qian2. These are usually put in red envelopes called hong2 bao1 ("angpow" in Hokkien).

No eggplants in Chinese restaurant?  

At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam I have to emphasize that it is very, very important to distinguish between aspirated and non-aspirated sounds in Chinese. You can't just carry on without being clear on this. My own experience in Beijing taught me a very good lesson (yes, you can laugh at me if it helps to make the point clear!)
I was at a little restaurant and there were just a couple of customers at that time. I wanted to order a dish of fried aubergine (brinjals or eggplants if you prefer) to go with my rice. I somehow learnt this rarely-used word wrongly as jie2 zi3 so I pronounced the first word non-aspirated. The waiter didn't know what I wanted so he asked the other waiters and in the end it was the cook himself who came out to see me. All of them said they didn't have what I wanted while I insisted they had, knowing that eggplants are found in all Chinese restaurants just as pasta is found in all Italian restaurants. Finally a customer at the next table who was listening in to our conversation asked a waiter to go down and bring up a qie2 zi3 (the first word is aspirated) to show me if that was what I wanted and true enough, it was! So the correct word is qie2 zi3    and the first word has got to be aspirated if you are to be understood. Yes, the same ch sound but jie2 is not aspirated while qie2 IS aspirated. Thus besides the four tones, it is also important to distinguish between aspirated and non-aspirated sounds in spoken Chinese in order to be understood.
As we have already gone into the non-aspirated ch sound in detail in the previous section I will now concentrate on the aspirated ch sound in the examples below. Look out (or rather pay attention to the pronunciation) of the words starting with c, ch, q below. They all have the aspirated ch sound:
tai4 chi2 le!    (It's too late!)
cuo4    (wrong)
qiao3    (coincidental, fortuitous) eg zhen1 qiao3!    (What a coincidence!)
chao3 jia4    (to quarrel)
chun1 tian1    (spring)
qiu1 tian1    (autumn)
jia4 qian2    (price)
jia4 qian2 duo1 shao3    (What's the price?) or just
duo1 shao3 qian2    (how much?)
qian1 zheng4    (visa)
sheng1 qi4    (angry)
tian1 qi4    (weather)
qi1 zi3    (wife). This is the polite term to use for a person's wife (the colloquial form that you are likely to hear is lao3 po2   ).

q can only be followed by i or u

Remember that the aspirated q (like the non-aspirated j already mentioned in Section 7) can only be followed by the i or u vowel (but, as in the case of j, the u that follows q has not got the oo sound but the ü sound although the diaeresis mark is not shown).
Look at the following examples:
nian2 qing1 ren2    (the young, young people)
Please note that nian2 qing1    alone means "young" so ta1 hen3 nian2 qing1    means "He is very young."
qiao3 ke4 li4    (chocolate)
quan2    (whole, entire). Thus "the whole world" in Chinese is quan2 shi4 jie4   
Compare this with qian2    meaning "money" that we have seen earlier. So if you want to say that you have no money, the sentence is wo3 mei2 you3 qian2   .

Days of the Week

It is quite easy to say the days of the week in Chinese as they always start with xing1 qi1    followed by a number. Thus three words are needed in Chinese for each day of the week. As the Chinese week does not start with Sunday but with Monday the number 1 is for Monday, 2 for Tuesday, etc. I might as well introduce the days of the week here. But before I do that, do you know how to count from 1 to 6? As I have been concentrating on the sounds all this while, I doubt if I have introduced them yet. So here goes:
yi1    (one)
er4    (two)
san1    (three)
si4    (four - I know, it is easy to pronounce this word as "see" but don't, as that pronunciation is written xi, remember?)
wu3    (five)
liu4    (six)
Now that you know them you should be able to say Monday through Saturday easily:
Monday is xing1 qi1 yi1  
Tuesday is xing1 qi1 er4  
Wednesday is xing1 qi1 san1  
Thursday is xing1 qi1 si4  
Friday is xing1 qi1 wu3   and
Saturday is xing1 qi1 liu4  
Voila! You need only be able to count from 1 to 6 to be able to say the first six days of the week. If it helps you to remember, Monday is xing1 qi1 one, Tuesday is xing1 qi1 two, Wednesday is xing1 qi1 three, Thursday is xing1 qi1 four, Friday is xing1 qi1 five and Saturday is xing1 qi1 six. Sunday, however, spoils it all as you cannot say xing1 qi1 seven. So to make the above list complete, here then are two ways of saying Sunday (one is as much used as the other):
Sunday is xing1 qi1 ri4  
Sunday is also xing1 qi1 tian1  
Mnemonic aid: Remember that xing is pronounced as "sing" and we sing the days of the week in the song "Happy Days" (the lyrics start with Sunday, Monday happy days; Tuesday, Wednesday happy days..., etc.).
Apart from the days of the week, you will often need to use the words that are the "neighbours" of today, namely
zuo2 tian1   (yesterday)
ming2 tian1   (tomorrow)
qian2 tian1   (the day before yesterday) and
hou4 tian1   (the day after tomorrow)
There, you have the basic words to help you with a meaningful conversation!

If qi is pronounced as ch'ee (ch aspirated) it follows
that ci and chi cannot be pronounced as ch'ee!

The song that I've chosen for this section is one of the most famous love songs ever written in Chinese. It's called bu4 liao3 qing2 or "Love without end" in English and is sung by the legendary Chinese actress Lin Dai. Although it was the theme song in the movie of the same name that came out in 1961 it is still as popular today as ever.
So how do you pronounce a word like ci or chi (remember I'm not treating them as two different sounds). Whatever it is they cannot have the same ee sound as you find in qi.
Let's take the word ci4. When preceded by a number it indicates the number of times that you've done something. Thus if you have seen a movie three times you say san1 ci4   . However if you have read the same book two times you don't say er4 ci4 but rather liang3 ci4.   I know it is difficult for a learner to know when to use liang3 and when to use er4 for "two", but as Chinese is not an easy language, let's forget about this for the time being and stick to er4 for "two".
There could be cases where you need to say if you are doing something for the first time or the second time or the third time. In this case you have to start with the word di4, which is the prefix for ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.). Thus di4 er4 ci4   means the "second time" and di4 san1 ci4   means the "third" time. So if you want to say that you are visiting China or whatever for the first time you'd say di4 yi4 ci4  .
In Chinese a change in tone can make a great deal of difference in the meaning of a word (did I hear you say "Not again"?) Good, I like to hear you say that because it would mean that you have already grasped this important aspect of the Chinese language. Thus cai2 as in gang1 cai2   (just now) has not got the same tone as cai4   which can mean either a vegetable or a dish eg. wo2 xi3 huan1 chi1 zhong1 guo2 cai4   (I like to eat Chinese food/dishes). And while we are on the subject of food you might as well learn the word can1   which means "a meal". From this word we have zao3 can1   (breakfast, literally morning meal), wu3 can1   (lunch) and wan3 can1   (dinner). There, you have another three very useful words (or terms if you like) for a meaningful Chinese conversation!

Names of different types of transportation

I don't know why the names for the various types of transportation in Chinese all start with the ch sound as you will see below. But come to think of it, it is not exclusive to the Chinese language alone. Neil Sedaka's song "One way ticket to the blues", for instance, has three instances of the ch sound in the very first line: Choo, choo train chuggin' down the track....
Let's now look at the words that describe the different means of transport in Chinese:
The train is huo3 che1   and the railway station is huo3 che1 zhan4  . By the way huo3 means "fire" so huo3 che1 (literally fire-vehicle) for a "train" gives us an indication of its origin.
A ship is chuan2   and to travel on a ship is cheng2 chuan2  .
A car is commonly referred to as che1   but since che1 is also used in the names of other types of vehicles (bus, taxi or even bicycle) we can be more specific by referring to a car as qi4 che1  .
With che1 being used everywhere you have to distinguish between gong1 gong4 qi4 che1   (public bus), chu1 zu1 qi4 che1   (a taxi, literally "hire-car") and zi4 xing2 che1   (a bicycle).
An aeroplane is fei1 ji1   and to travel by plane is zuo4 fei1 ji1   (literally it means "sit in a plane") while airport is fei1 ji1 chang3  .
And even if you go on your own steam i.e. on foot there is still the non-aspirated ch sound in zou3 lu4  !
In the previous section you have learnt that "to sit" in Chinese is zuo4  . This is a very useful verb to remember as it is also used when you wish to say that you ride on a public bus (zuo4 gong1 gong4 qi4 che1  ), travel by plane (zuo4 fei1 ji1  ) or travel on a train (zuo4 huo3 che1  ) though cheng2 is also used in the place of zuo4 eg. cheng2 huo3 che1   (travel by train), cheng2 fei1 ji1   (travel by plane), cheng2 chuan2   (travel by ship) and cheng2 gong1 gong4 qi4 che1   (travel by bus).
The verb for riding a bicycle or a horse, however, is qi2 (yes, it's still the aspirated ch sound). So to ride a bicycle is qi2 zi4 xing2 che1   while to ride a horse is qi2 ma3  . I cannot overstress the importance of pronouncing ma3 in its third tone here if you want your listener to understand that you are talking about a horse. If you are not clear what I am talking about here please go back to the very first lesson where the four tones are explained in detail.
The only form of transportation that somehow has not got the ch sound is the subway which is called di4 tie3   in Chinese though the Chinese word for a subway station is di4 tie3 zhan4   (yes, zhan4 also starts with the non-aspirated ch sound).
Since we are on the subject of transportation I might as well point out the naming system for buses and subway lines in China. Although both buses and subway lines have numbers that distinguish them, yet for buses the Chinese don't say Bus Number 9 but "9 Road" (jiu3 lu4  ). Similarly Bus No. 18 would be "18 Road" (shi2 ba1 lu4  ). For the subway lines the naming system is a bit different. Subway Line No. 4 would be si4 hao4 xian4   (literally 4-number line) and Subway Line No. 5 would be wu3 hao4 xian4   (5-number line). Good to know if you have to use the public bus or subway in China.

More vocabulary - words starting with c, ch, q

One of the most commonly-used words in Chinese is chu1 meaning "to go out" (normally in chu1 qu4  ) eg. ta1 gang1 chu1 qu4   (He has just gone out.)
Another of the most-frequently used words in Chinese is chi1   meaning "to eat" as in chi1 fan4   (to eat rice or simply to have a meal) or in the question ni3 yao4 chi1 shen2 me?   (What do you want to eat?)
chu1 guo2   means to go abroad (literally go-out-country)
One phrase you might hear often in conversations while in China (especially in the train or plane) is chu1 chai1  . It simply means to be out on a business trip.
ya2 chi3   (tooth, teeth)
There are two Chinese equivalents for the word "very". One is fei1 chang2   and the other is hen3 which we have already seen in Section 3 earlier. Thus "very expensive" is either hen3 gui4 or fei1 chang2 gui4  . Similarly, "very fast" is hen3 kuai4 or fei1 chang2 kuai4   while "very happy" is hen3 gao1 xing4 or fei1 chang2 gao1 xing4  .
chang2 chang2   (often)
cha2   (tea)
chang2   (long)
chang4   (to sing)
cheng2 shi4   (city)
chuan1   (to wear). If you remember we have already seen this word in the second tone in which case it means "a ship".
cong2   (since)
qi1   (seven)
qian2 mian4   (in front of)
qiang2   (strong)
Compare this word with qiong2   meaning "poor".
fu4 qin1   (father)
qing1 nian2   (youth)
quan2 bu4   (all, entire)
cong1 ming2   (clever)
qi2 guai4   (strange)
chou1 yan1   (to smoke)
To go back to the group of 3 initial letters (c, ch, q) that, for our purpose, are all grouped together as representing the aspirated ch sound, only the i that comes after q has got the ee sound - ci and chi do not have the ee sound. Listen and compare these three sounds when they are in the first tone (but don't try to differentiate between 2 and 3):
qi1, ci1, chi1
And talking about the ee sound, if that sound is the first syllable of a word then you have to precede it with the letter y so it will be spelt yi in pinyin.

The u vowel in pinyin

The u vowel in pinyin has got two sounds (1) the oo sound, which is the predominant one, and (2) another sound which is quite close to the ee sound (made with pursed or puckered lips). In the common expression chu1 qu4   (to go out) that you have seen above you have a good example of the two sounds that the vowel u can have in pinyin.
However, have no fear as there are only four consonants that can take the puckered ee sound when followed by the u vowel. These four consonants are j, q, x, y and you can easily remember them as they are not the most commonly-used letters of the English alphabet. In all other cases and with all other consonants the u vowel has got the oo sound.
And although and also have the puckered ee sound, there can be no ambiguity here as they do not have the letter u but ü, that is, a u with a diaeresis (two dots) above it. Thus a woman or female is nü3 ren2   and to travel (go sight-seeing) is lü3 xing2  . There is also lü4 se4  , which means green colour (though qing1 se4   is also used).
The following examples of the four letters with which the vowel u has the puckered ee sound and not the oo sound will make the above clearer:
ju4 zi3   (a sentence)
qu4 nian2   (last year)
xu1 yao4   (require, need)
yu2   (fish)
Then you have xia4 yu3   which means to rain while yu2 san3   (originally yu3 san3) is an umbrella. But yu3 can also mean "language" as in hua2 yu3 or han4 yu3, both of which, as you have already seen, mean Mandarin or the Chinese language. Then there is yu4 bei4   which means to prepare or get ready. Common words that start with the two letters yu are:
gong1 yuan2   meaning a public park or garden and yi1 yuan4   meaning a hospital.
Let's look at the other group of words where the u vowel has not got the same sound as the above but has got the oo sound instead:
bu4   means "no" or "not" eg. ta1 bu2 shi4 wo3 de ba4ba   (He is not my father).
chi1 cu4   means "to be jealous" (its literal meaning is "to eat vinegar")
du2 shu1   means "to study" (literally "read a book")
fu4 qin1   means "father". Compare this with fu4 jin4   which means "nearby". This brings to my mind the name of the famous street in Beijing where you have got be prepared to spend a whole evening just crowd-watching, shopping and dining. Not to go there is like being in Paris and not going to the Champs Elysees. The street is called "Wangfujing Dajie" (da4 jie1 actually means "big street"). If you have enough of studying and need a break you can go here to read all about it.
gu4 shi4   means "story"
lao2 hu3   means "tiger"
ku1   means "to cry"
lu4   means "road"
mu3 qin1   means "mother" (This is more formal than ma1ma which can be translated as "mum" or "mummy").
nu3 li4   means "hardworking"
pu3 tong1   means "ordinary"
ru2 guo3   means "if"
gao4 su4   means "to inform, tell"
tu1 ran2   means "suddenly"
tiao4 wu3   means "to dance"

Summary of Section 8 (with Chinese characters)

Now that you have come to the end of this short course, go here if you need to revise all the Chinese characters that you have come across in the eight sections of this Chinese pinyin course:
Happy studying. - Webmaster
Back to Section 7