I would like to know the following.

  1. I would like to know how to pronounce (and perhaps also spell with Chinese characters) the standalone letters of the English alphabet in Chinese. I am particularly concerned about letters appearing in vitamins. For example, how would I pronounce something like vitamin "B3" (other vitamins take other letters), without recurring to its scientific name, if at all possible?

  2. I tend to see the same characters used for transliterating personal and place names, but there seem to be quite a lot of them and I cannot find a list anywhere. In this case, I would like to know whether there is a list of English/foreign language syllables, and what the mapping for transliterating these into Chinese characters/syllable is, if such a fixed transliteration mapping exist.


  • 3
    For point 1, possible duplicate of How do native speakers of Chinese pronounce Latin characters. Anyway in practice, just pronounce them like in English, because there's no de facto standard.
    – Stan
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 1:19
  • Just now I was listening to a recording of myself practicing interpreting. I was confused by this word "ai". After a moment I realized that I was just using the English letter "I"; it can be confusing!
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 21:45

3 Answers 3

  1. For the transliteration of each letter into Mandarin Chinese, just follow the list below, written in pinyin with Chinese characters where possible. Some pinyin combinations may not exist in Mandarin at all though, so I will give approximate IPA or English transliterations.
    • A : ei 诶 /ei/ A
    • B : bi 比 /pi/
    • C*: xi 西 /ɕi/ or /si/ || "sei" /sei/ say
    • D*: di 弟 /ti/ || dei /tei/
    • E : yi 一 /ji/
    • F : "e-fu" /efu/ where the "u" is often only pronounced lightly producing a pronunciation of approximately /ef/ as pronounced in English. Note that the "fu" is most often pronounced with the neutral(zeroth/fifth/light) tone
    • G : ji 计/鸡 /t͡si/ similar to Z
    • H : ei-chi /eit͡sʰɨ/ where the "ɨ" is often only pronounced lightly producing a pronunciation of approximately /eit͡sʰ/ "age" as pronounced in English
    • I : ai 哀 /ai/ I
    • J : "zhei" /t͡sei/
    • K : "kei" /kʰei/ K
    • L : /el/ L note that this letter is most often pronounced with the second(rising) tone
    • M : em /em/ M
    • N : en 恩 /ən/
    • O : ou 欧 /oʊ/
    • P*: pi 批 /pʰi/ || pei 胚 /pʰei/ pay
    • Q : "ki-ou" /kʰiou/
    • R : /aɻ/ R note that this letter is most often pronounced with the second(rising) tone
    • S : "e-si" /esɨ/ where the "i" is often only pronounced lightly producing a pronunciation of approximately /es/ "as" as pronounced in English
    • T*: ti 梯 /tʰi/ || "tei" /tʰei/
    • U : you 优 /joʊ/ yo
    • V : wei 微 /wei/ way
    • W : da-bo-liu 大播柳 /tapuo'lioʊ/ I do not know how to describe the tone for this.
    • X : "eg-si" /eksɨ/ where the "i" is often only pronounced lightly producing a pronunciation of approximately /eks/ "ax" as pronounced in English
    • Y : wai 歪 /wai/
    • Z : ji 计/鸡 /t͡si/ similar to G

Except where noted, the tone is either the first(high) tone or the fourth(falling) tone.

  1. Indeed many words are transliterated from a small set of Chinese characters. However, there is not rule for transliterating any word and thus all those you have seen are just a convention which can be learned by experience, i.e. you'll just have to read more of those words in order to guess a more probably (and never exactly) correct transliteration of a word. Here's a tip: technical fields aside, most transliterations choose more "pleasant" sounding characters, e.g. 德 "virtue"(positive) over 得 "obtain"(neutral) and 布 "cloth"(neutral) over 不 "no"(negative) and 怖 "terror"(negative).
  • English letters should be pronounced as its English IPA.
    – zzy
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 7:16
  • 4
    @zzy Not necessarily. Some Chinese without enough exposure to English pronunciations cannot properly identify the letters as pronounced in English. Also, learning more common Chinese transliteration of these letters is important when listening, because Chinese in China and Taiwan most often use these instead of the proper English pronunciations when referring to these letters. Not knowing these may cause some listeners to take several seconds to understand what they mean(depending on context). Also, this makes speaking to them sound more natural, though this is of secondary importance.
    – busukxuan
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 10:52
  • What you provide is very different from the Mandarin I spoke for more than 20 years. For example I don't know any pronunciation of Z could be G. And Mandarin is 普通话 in Chinese , it is collect from one small town in Heibei province in China , which is 1500 km away from Taiwan. I think it's more important to learn the real Mandarin, not dialect, it most parts of Chinese can't understand Cantonese but can understand the Mandarin. And Mandarin have only one standard.
    – zzy
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 2:59
  • 1
    @zzy Yes, that is why I did explicitly state Mandarin in my answer. I can't possibly provide the transliteration of each letter in each dialect. Anyway, these are just transliterations and not standard Mandarin so it certainly may differ from place to place. What I provided was what I know. About the Z and G, I know they are different, but I couldn't express the difference in words. My apologies.
    – busukxuan
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 12:47
  • Many people will see Mandarin as the Standard Mandarin, so there will be misunderstanding :-)
    – zzy
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 1:47

1.Vitamins is 维他命 in Chinese , it's just the transliteration from English, you can get it from google

And B3 is equal to B and , you can simply pronounce B in English and in Chinese. All name consists of letters and number can be pronounced like this.

2.Personal and place names's transliteration is usually complex , but for foreign pronunciation, it's no need to change it, just explain where are you from and everyone will get it. For Chinese pronunciation I think you know better than me.

  • 1
    Formal translation should be 维生素 rather than 维他命. 维他命 is not encouraged although people use a lot, mostly for fancy purpose.
    – Xiaoge Su
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 2:13
  • @XiaogeSu I didn't got any encourage usage of 维生素 not 维他命。I have use 维他命 for many formal condition, and doesn't matter me .I think it is no matter to use which of them.If you have the origin of the encourage advice, welcome to post it :-)
    – zzy
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 7:11
  • 1
    from 现代汉语词典:【维他命】维生素的旧称。[英 vitamin] It is suggested that 维他命 is outdated and not encouraged to use.
    – Xiaoge Su
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:24
  • @XiaogeSu Thanks , but I don't think outdated is meaning not encouraged to use.
    – zzy
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 3:00
  • In general, it is not encouraged to use the Chinese word based on transliteration
    – Xiaoge Su
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 19:25
  1. Standalone letters are just written as the letters. Pronunciations vary in the level of verisimilitude to the English (e.g., C might be xi1 or [si]).

  2. Transliterating foreign (or even just English) words in Chinese is not mechanical, and there is no unified standard. Sometimes a name will differ between HK, the Mainland, and Taiwan (e.g., Mainland Obama=奥巴马 vs Taiwan Obama=欧巴马). I believe on some other question someone linked some (official???) guidelines used by some Chinese news source.

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