Vowels Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Fame Ketover of Lenguin.com, and this is Mandarin Chinese. Open up and say "ah" because today we're going to be talking about vowel sounds.

The vowel sounds of Chinese all have approximate equivalents in English. We're going to go through some Chinese surnames to practice the sounds. Let's start, listen to the vowel sound.

Fāng, Fāng, Fāng

Notice that the vowel sound "a" is spelled with the letter A as in Okinawa. Try repeating the surname after the speaker.

Fāng, Fāng, Fāng

Listen to the vowel in the second surname.

Mí, Mí, Mí

Notice the vowel sound "i" is spelled with an I as in Tahiti. Try repeating.

Mí, Mí, Mí

Here's the third surname.

Hú, Hú, Hú

Notice that the sound "u" is spelled with a U. Though not quite the same, it's like the English vowel U in Honalulu. Try repeating.

Hú, Hú, Hú

Here's the fourth one.

Hóng, Hóng, Hóng

Notice that even though its spelled the same, this does not sound much like the English vowel we use for "Hong Kong". It sounds more like the short double-o vowel in "hook". About the only word with this sound spelled with a single O in English is "woman". Try repeating.

Hóng, Hóng, Hóng

Listen to the last surname.

Ēn, Ēn, Ēn

Notice that the sound "e" is spelled with an E as in chicken. Notice also that this is not the vowel sound spelled with an E as in "hen". Try repeating.

Ēn, Ēn, Ēn

You might find this sound "e" a bit close to the sound "a" and to the sound "o". The exercises at Lenguin.com will give you help in making these distinctions.

Now we're going to check out some diphthongs or vowel combinations. Listen to this surname.

Lài, Lài, Lài

Notice that the diphthong "ai" is spelled AI as in Shanghai, which in Chinese is pronounced like this.

Shànghǎi, Shànghǎi

Try repeating the surname.

Lài, Lài, Lài

Here's the second surname.

Wěi, Wěi, Wěi

The diphthong "ei" is spelled EI as in Taipei, which is pronounced in Chinese like this.

Táiběi, Táiběi

Remember that without the letter I the letter E was pronounced "e". Try repeating the surname.

Wěi, Wěi, Wěi

Here's the third surname.

Hào, Hào, Hào

The diphthong "ao" is spelled AO as in "Mao Zedong", in Chinese:

Máo Zédōng, Máo Zédōng

Try repeating.

Hào, Hào, Hào

Here's the last surname.

Lóu, Lóu, Lóu

The diphthong "ou" is spelled OU, as in "Zhou Enlai", in Chinese:

Zhōu Ēnlái, Zhōu Ēnlái

Try repeating.

Lóu, Lóu, Lóu


Up until this point, we've treated the sound spelled W and Y as if they were regular consonants. But phonetically, they're shorted vowels, or semivowels, which glide into the full vowel of the syllable. They're so close to being vowels that when a semivowel is followed by a vowel, with the same articulation, it might be difficult to hear any transition. The syllable written WU may sound like "u" and the syllable written YI may sound like "i". Semivowels may follow consonants, and when they do, the Pinyin system writes them with the equivalent vowel letter: U instead of W, and I instead of Y. Listen to the speaker read the rows of surnames in this display.

Háng, Wáng, Huáng
Lán, Wán, Luán
Máo, Yáo, Miáo
Láng, Yáng, Liáng

In each group, the first surname starts with a regular consonant, the second with a semivowel, and the third with a regular consonant followed by a semivowel spelled as a vowel. If you have any difficulty with semivowels following consonants, you can build up to them by starting with full vowels and speeding up until they're semivowels. For example, we could build up to the surname "Huān", by starting from the full name - surname and given name: Hū Ān

Listen.

Hū Ān, Huān

Again

Hū Ān, Huān

Try repeating after the speaker.

Hū Ān, Huān

Again.

Hū Ān, Huān

Try repeating after the speaker as she says the names again.

Háng, Wáng, Huáng
Lán, Wán, Luán
Máo, Yáo, Miáo
Láng, Yáng, Liáng

Now we'll look at three irregularities that crop up in combinations of semivowel and vowel. Listen to the speaker read the first group of surnames.

È, Yè, Liè

Notice the effect of the semivowel written Y or I. Again.

È, Yè, Liè

After the semivowel written Y or I, the letter E has the same sound value as in English "yet", rather than the sound value "e", which it has alone. This is the same sound value it has in the diphthong "ei", EI. Try repeating these three surnames after the speaker.

È, Yè, Liè

Again.

È, Yè, Liè

Now listen to the next group.

Ān, Yán, Lián

Notice the effect of the semivowel. Again.

Ān, Yán, Lián

Here after the semivowel, the AN takes on the sound value of EN as in "hen".

We include the N in the rule because this change only takes place when there is an N. Try repeating these surnames.

Ān, Yán, Lián

Again.

Ān, Yán, Lián

Now listen to the last group of surnames.

Lóng, Wò, Luò

Listen for the effect of the semivowel written W or U.

Lóng, Wò, Luò

ONG is pronounced "ong" but after the semivowel written W or U, the letter O stands for another vowel sound. The combination WO or UO is pronounced rather like the beginning of the English word "wall". Try repeating after the speaker.

Lóng, Wò, Luò

Again.

Lóng, Wò, Luò

That's the end of this lesson. Remember to head over to Lenguin.com to do the exercises. That's Lenguin as in Lenguin the Penguin. Thanks for watching!

I want to thank all of our subscribers and supporters for their gracious donations in making these courses possible. In future lessons this is where I'll be giving shout-outs to our Patreon supporters. So be sure to visit our Patreon page to see all the goodies we're offering. Until next time, stay cool.

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