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Say It Right Series

Q and A with Q - The Chinese Q Sound

Posted by xiaohu October 10, 2008 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: Aspiration, Aspirated Sounds, Aspirate, Pronunciation of Chinese Q, 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, Accent Reduction, How To Sound Natural In Chinese, Natural Chinese Accent,

                              The Chinese "Q" Sound

The second in our series about aspiration is one of the most difficult for foreigners to make sound authentic:

  • Q

This is because it combines three sounds together that are not native to English.

  1. Flat Tongue Sound (舍面音, 平舍)
  2. Aspiration
  3. Voiceless Sounds

Later we'll get into greater detail about the "Flat Tongue Sound" in Chinese called the 舍面音, but this article will give a short description of how to pronounce this sound.

The 舍面音, Flat Tongue Sound

This sound will require discipline from native English speakers, as English has nothing like it in the phonetic system.

Mastering this sound, (as with many sounds in Mandarin Chinese) is entirely dependent on tongue positioning.

I affectionately refer to this sound as a "reverse Chi"

Take the tip of your tongue and press it against the back of your bottom teeth.  Notice the middle of your tongue (the tongue blade) curving upwards. 

Rest the center of your tongue (the tongue blade) against the bony ridge behind your front teeth (the alveolar ridge).  Be careful not to let the tip of your tongue move while you produce this sound.


As is often described online as a "thin sound" comes, in part from the aspirated quality of this sound.  Remember, aspiration is, simply put just giving the sound an extra puff of air.  Let the air come from your diaphragm, much like in singing, and if you do it right, the sound should sound especially hissy as the air slides down the top of your tongue.

Unvoiced Sound

The other contributing factor to the "thin sound" of the Mandarin Chinese Q comes from the sound being unvoiced.  An unvoiced sound is one that you can't sing.  Voiceless sounds are those that are not produced by the vocal chords.


While you produce this sound, put your hand over your Larynx.  Did you notice that it doesn't vibrate?

Now, contrast that with the Americanized "Ch" sound. 

Keep your hand over your Larynx while you say the word "Cheese". Now, just say the first part "Chee", did you notice the difference?

With the correct "Qi" sound you should feel very minimal vibration of your Larynx, while with the Americanized "Chee" sound you will clearly feel the vibration.

Practice your "Q" with all the following sounds

  • Qi
  • Qia
  • Qie
  • Qiao
  • Qiu
  • Qian
  • Qin
  • Qiang
  • Qing  
  • Que
  • Quan
  • Qiong

Once you are comfortable with the Chinese Q, you are ready to move on.

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