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Say It Right Series

Aspiration: The Key to an Authentic Chinese Accent.

Posted by xiaohu October 5, 2008 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: Unvoiced Sounds, Voiced Sounds, Reduce American Accent, How To Guide To Reducing Western Accent In Chinese, Correct Chinese Pronunciation Mistakes, Correct Pronunciation of Chinese Sounds, Aspiration, Aspirated Sounds, Aspirate, Accent Reduction, How To Sound Natural In Chinese, Natural Chinese Accent

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the Pinyin system of Chinese romanization is its inherent lack of clues to the differences between the English pronunciation and the way it's been romanized into Chinese.  There is a great lack of pronunciation guides beyond the obvious, "Zh, Ch, Sh, R, Z, C, S".

The same can be said of most systems of romanizing Chinese, so in my mind, the only way to get a clear picture of what we Westerners need to focus on to perfect our pronunciation is to look at all the look at all the systems together and take the best points from each. 

In this lesson, pay special attention to the Wade-Giles system of romanizing Chinese.  While it has been replaced by the more straightforward Pinyin, I believe in many ways it is superior to Pinyin, and a linguistic masterpiece!  Once your initiated into the system, you'll see that it won't fail you as Pinyin has failed on several key points.

One of those points is aspiration, denoted in Wade-Giles by an Apostrophe '. 

What is aspiration?

Aspiration is simply put, a strong puff of air.

Look over the Wade-Giles Pinyin Chart and see the sound marked with an Apostrophe '

The Apostrophe is a marker to let us know which sounds are aspirated.  Don't worry that the Wade-Giles system of romanization is different from Pinyin, you can see the corresponding Pinyin in the chart as well. 

While many of us who are more advanced in Chinese know some of the aspirated sounds, namely the "H" as in "hao", (only because these are so prominently aspirated that it becomes obvious to our western ears), however the majority of Chinese learners from the west have no concept of aspiration in their language.  This is primarilly due to the fact that aspiration does not exist in the English langage.

I cannot stress enough how important these aspirated sounds are to sounding authentic in Chinese.

In this lesson we are going to focus on the aspirated sounds, the ones that even the likes of the great Mark Rowswell, aka "大山" say incorrectly, perhaps  due to a failure on the part of the Hanyu Pinyin system.

The aspirated sounds in Chinese, denoted in Hanyu Pinyin as: K, T, P, Q, H, C and Ch.

First, take a closer look at the Wade-Giles Pinyin Chart

The fist thing you will notice are a group of sounds that are marked with an apostrophe, these are the Hanyu Pinyin, K, T, P, Q, C and Ch.

One thing that will prove to be a great help would be to download the Chinesepod Pinyin Chart with real voice samples.

After listening to the sounds marked in Pinyin as K, T, P, H, Q, C and Ch, you need to be aware that, with all these aspirated sounds, the aspiration occurs from basically the same place,

From the back of the throat.

Keep this in mind as we continue on our journey in the series on aspiration.  Once you understand the basics of aspiration and can hear the difference between an aspirated and unaspirated sound, you are ready to begin. 

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