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(Mandarin) Chinese pronunciation guide & tips~

Hello everyone !

So, after having posted some tips in the thread, and got told to turn it into a tutorial, I've decided to follow this advice and making it ~ :love:

Recently, due to obvious context and also, the arrival of Chinese Vocaloids a few years ago, people started to try Mandarin voicebanks, making the very old ones existing directly and the new more popular~

You want to make a Chinese-capable singing UTAUloid ? But you don't know how to pronounce it or have no clue at all ?
Then, here you go ! ~

First of all, you know this is about Mandarin Chinese. Yes, Chinese is i fact divided in many dialects, each having their specifities, and Mandarin being the one spoken in Beijing/Pékin. Thus, this will be a guide for Mandarin (because Cantonese, Wu, Min and such are hard + I don't know them enough well).

I also want to say that I'm based on my classes at college + pinyin charts on the Web. I have not done any audiofile yet, so sorry, you will have to listen to Chinese UTAUloids (Hanami, DongFang Zhizi UTAU VB, etc) and NiaoNIAO banks... But I will try tho', to record myself pronouncing things and then, a special VB done for this purpose and this thread. (I've two VBs, but they're not finished + one is too deep and the other too derpy to be taken as examples)

Alright, are you ready ?

I. Vowels

In Chinese, vowels are quite different from other Asian languages, such as Japanese. Though, a few of them can be quite close. Let's start !

a : this is one of the easiest. In fact, it's like the a you meet in many languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese etc). However, it's wider-opened pronounced than usual a. For English speaker, it is like the a in "apple" but brighter. However, after a certain vowel, it is pronounced differently. (see the "Exceptions" part below, at the very end of the thread's post.)

e : this one is the trickiest, and even myslef on the first class I thought it was pronounced as "é/è". In fact, Chinese E is pronunced like the French E (like in "retour" ), or like the "e" in "perfect" or the i in "sir". The main differebnce though, is that it must be produced with your diaphragm. In the beginning it sounds like you're dying, but don't worry, after many tries it'll sound more beautiful and more natural~ ♥ However, if it's followed by some vowels, the pronunciation will be different (see the "Exceptions" part below, at the very end of the thread's post.)

i : This one is less tricky, but as the Chinese E, can lead to some mispronunciation accidents ^^"' It depends, in fact, of which letter being before it. Normally, the Chinese I is pronounced like Japanese one, or like the "ee" sound in English, as in "Wheel".

Here are the consonants where i is pronounced differently : C, CH, R, S, SH, Z, ZH. After those initials, you have to pronounce "i" as a buzz or like the e in "roses".

o : as for a, it's the same as the one you have in many languages, except it's incredibly wide. Wider than open o. In fact, it's like the a in "all".

u : Like Japanese, but closer. Can be close to Spanish U or French "ou" sound (like in "doux" ).

ü : In Dongfang Zhizi's voicebank, it is also noted as "v". It's in fact the French U sound, like in "rue". It is way much more brighter than the Japanese U. In English, the closest you could get would be .

ng : It is simply a nasalized "n" sound, like the NG sound in "sing along".

II. Consonants

a°) Soft consonants

These consonants are pronounced WITHOUT ANY PUFF OF AIR. There are :
B, D, G
Which are pronounced with a tiny pop (like a fish bubbling), making them then sounding like French/Japanese P, T, K.
Z is pronounced like in "Led Zeppelin".

F, L, M, N, S, W, Y are pronounced the same as in English.

b°) Hard consonants

These are pronounced with the puff of air. They are :
P, T, K
It's the same as English ones.

c°) "Special" consonants

I call them that way as they're the trickiest and are quite different from what you'd expect.

SH , CH : these are the easiest of that group. In fact, they'd be pronounced like Japanese BUT you do it WITH YOUR TONGUE ROLLED WITH THE TIP OF IT AIMING AT YOUR THROAT. This make them sound rather close to English "sh" and "ch" sounds.

R : probably one of the trickiest and most unexpected. You imagine it's pronounced, like what ? An English R ? A rolled Spanish R ? A flapped Japanese ? A Korean? A French R ? NOPE. YOU LOSE IT.

In fact, the Chinese R is pronounced like... *drums roll*

A sweet J.


To be more precise, like the French J ("jeune" ) or like the S in the English words "pleasure" and "treasure". With the tongue in the same position as for SH and CH, of course.

ZH : The last sound of the SH-CH-R-ZH quartet. It's pronounced as "dj" like the J in "jam". Aaaaand, as the rest of this tiny portion of special portion, with the tongue in the same position as above.

H : It is not pronounced the same in English, but like the Spanish jota.

C : It is pronounced as "ts" with a puff of air and the tongue near palate, kinda like in "it's".

J : In fact it's quite a mixture of a very sweet (yet semi-pronounced) J and a French T. The tongue is stuck to palate

Q : The same as J, except it is done with a puff of air, and sounding more like a Japanese CH

X : Same position of tongue while producing a Japanese "sh" sound.

III. Exceptions

WU, YU, YI : They're NOT pronounced as "wu", "yu" or "yi" like in "wood", "you" or "gli". They're pronounced respectively as the vowels u, ü, i.

ER, AR : They aren't pronounced as "euuhj" ou "aaajj" but in fact... Like er/ar as in "perfect" and "are". Imagine a Chinese person trying to sing "We are the champioons" saying "wi er" or "wi ar".

Chinese E : It is pronounced as é/è (like Japanese E) if followed by an i or following a y/i

Chinese A : after a yu/ü , it is pronounced as è (like in "bet" )

Chinese U : is pronounced the same as ü after J, Q, X (to give you an idea, ju is pronounced the same as the French pronoun "tu" )

Chinese I : After an u is pronounced as é (like in "very" )

Hoping it helped you ! ^^ I will edit if I've forgotten something, and I will try to include as soon a possible an audiofile and/or a sample of a voicebank recorded for the occasion. ~
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