Updated: Dec 29, 2019
It is important for foreign learners, both beginners and those who have been learning for a while, to pay attention to the pronunciation.
To improve your pronunciation in Mandarin, you should pay attention to:
Initials and Finals
There are a few difficult initials and finals to pronounce in Mandarin. i.e. j-q-x-r, c-ch, s-sh, z-zh, en, u, ü, üe etc. If you can identify the differences between them, then you can pronounce them properly. The key is to know the tongue or mouth positions or the places of articulation when you say the words with above initials and finals. For example, when you say 去qù, the sound must come from between the lips. When you say 吃chī, this obviously has nothing to do with the lips, but your tongue should be curled up. When you say 车chē the tongue flattens out. In conclusion, when you say the easy confused words in Mandarin, like去qù, 吃chī and 车chē , your tongue or mouth position needs to be different.
Places of articulation
So it is important to learn about places of articulation, as BBC advises: "The articulators are the parts of the mouth we use to turn sound into speech, after looking at places of articulation, practise making the movements that native speakers use when they speak."
There are four tones (marked like this: first tone ‘-’, second tone ‘/’, third tone ‘V’, forth tone ‘ \’), there is also a neutral tone. There are many words that sound similar in Mandarin but with different tones. When the tone changes, the meaning of the word changes. For example, 八bā，爸bà， 吧ba. As you can see, these three words all have the same sound ba, but first word八- bā is with the first tone, it means eight; 爸bà with the third tone, means dad; 吧ba with a neutral tone, has different meanings. e.g, guessing, making suggestion etc.
There are some technical tips to pronouncing these four tones correctly. But a tip is to not pronounce the tones too high, apart from first tone, like 吃chī, 京Jīng. When you say words with the first tone, it should be pronounced high and flat. A common mistake is to make the third and forth tones sound like the second tone.
© T. Tian