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This course is prepared by Dr Xie Tianwei, a renowned expert in Mandarin Chinese teaching, Learn Chinese is a free Mandarin Chinese online course. This fluency-oriented course is made up of 15 short units. All dialogues are easy to understand and contain useful phrases.

At the end of each unit, you'll find practice exercises. You can use them to check how much you've learnt. Learn Chinese is most appropriate for those who want to learn Mandairn online but it's also good for people enrolled in a class. Learn Chinese is an excellent starting point for people interested in learning Mandarin no matter what their learning situation is.

How to use this online course

Learn Chinese includes 15 units. Each has easy-to-understand dialogues with useful phrases. Each sentence in this course is written in Chinese characters, English and pinyin, Chinese written in Latin characters. Audio is available for each sentence. You will also find grammar and usage notes at the bottom of most dialogues. So far, our course has only traditional Chinese characters. Simplified characters will be added soon. Each unit has one mp3 file that you can download in order to avoid downloading an audio for each single sentence.

About Chinese characters

汉 字 han4 zi4

The two characters above mean “Chinese Characters”. Chinese Characters are the founding block/unit of Chinese language, because one or more Chinese characters form words, phrases, and sentences, etc.

The number of Chinese characters can be a little overwhelming, but it helps keep Chinese overall a simply structured language.

We start by discussing the pronunciation of Chinese Characters. There are two aspects of Chinese characters’ pronunciation to learn about.

1. Phonics - Pinyin

Invariably, each Chinese character's pronunciation is either a consonant followed by one or two vowels (always in this order) or one or two vowels only. In an analogy, Chinese characters all sound a bit like "La", "Di", "Da".

And generally the pronunciation of each Chinese character lasts about the same length in a sentence. So roughly, a Chinese sentence sounds like "he saw me", "I know you", or "who can sing?", if read flatly.

The phonics system for Chinese characters is called Pinyin. We will introduce Pinyin in much detail starting from Class 3.

2. Four Tones

Each Chinese character has one vowel, and each vowel, in turn, has a tone with it. Many characters should have different tones for different meanings, but most have unique tones in all situations.

There are 5 possible tones: 4 major tones and a "light" tone. Conventionally, the major tones are labeled as following.

Tone 1: flat

Tone 2: up

Tone 3: curve

Tone 4: down

The 5th tone is called "light" tone, which has no number as label. Characters with light tone should be pronounced light and fast, the only exceptions to the previous rule that all characters in a sentence lasts about the same long.

We will introduce how to pronounce the four tones in the next class. It is important to remember that Chinese character’s tone has nothing to do with its meaning.

About pinyin

拼 音 pin1 yin1

Pinyin is a Roman-letter based system that China now uses to mark the pronunciation of Chinese characters. With four tones and pinyin, any Chinese characters can be pronounced precisely. In many cases, Pinyin is quite intuitive to English speakers with only a few exceptions. However, it can be a twist to render Pinyin in four tones for people who just start.

Pinyin is made up of 2 tables: vowel table and consonant table, the latter of which will be discussed in Class 4.

Vowel Table:

a o e i u ϋ
ai ei ui
ao ou iu
ie ue er
an en in un ϋn
ang eng ing ong

As you can see, most vowels are simply a combination of the 6 major vowels in the first row, which is obviously the most important part, and some special consonants.

How can you remember all this? We are putting all these into English words with virtually the same sound for you to learn and remember in an easier way.

*Note: letters in the following explanation in "..." are pronounced as in English, and those in '... ' are pronounced in Pinyin. Also, all samples are delivered in 4 tones.

a - as the vowel in "star" without the "r" sound

o - as the vowel in "law"

e - as the vowel in "stir"

i - as the vowel in "bit"

u - as the vowel in "food"

ϋ - as "y" in "yellow" followed by the 'u' above

ai - as the vowel in "bike"

ei - as the vowel in "lake"

ui - combination of 'u' and 'i', the same as word "we" in English

ao - as the vowel in "loud"

ou - as the vowel in "flow"

iu - combination of 'i' and 'u', the same as word "yew" in English

ie - combination of 'i' and 'e', as the vowel in "sierra"

ue - combination of 'u' and 'e', as the vowel in "buena"

er - combination of 'e' and 'r', as the vowel in "early"

an - as the vowel in "anchor":

en - as the word "earn" without the "r" sound:

in - as in the word "inn"

un - as in the word "one":

ϋn - as "y" in "yellow" followed by the English word "one"

ang - as the word "long"

eng - as the vowel in "lung"

ing - as the vowel in "England"

ong - as 'u' followed by the 'ng' as above:
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