Serveral chinese characters sound extremely similarly to me, not only because of their vowel's tone, but, often, also because of their starting consonants. For example, I find it's very difficult to notice the difference among 彡, 山, 摻, 芟, 惉, 沾, 傹, 治安, etc. I found several tables where characters are sorted by number of strokes (chinese dictionaries), piyin (chinese dictionaries for foreigners), by frequency (resources for beginnerds), by category (books for beginners), etc. What I cannot find is a table where words are sorted by sound similarity (piyin is a kind of), so that beginners can be warned about similarity traps.

What shall I look for?

Note that I'm not asking for resources, but for tips on what kind of resources a beginner should look for.

Attempt to improve my question, after Aurus Huang's answer. It's noticeable that, for example, Spanish have difficulties in distinguishing the sound (vowels) of "jeep", "cheap", "ship". In the same way, usually English speakers cannot distinguish Italian's double consonants (think of English's "regatta", from Italian's "regata", or "benvenuTTo" instead of "benvenuto"), or Russian's "ы", "й", "и". This kind of errors arize mostly because some sounds do not exist in their mother language.

So, back to the question, I'm looking for something that says: "Warning: be careful, the following Chinese words have quite similar sound: don't make confusion!". This may be quite specific according to the learner's mother language.


  • Not sure if this is what you're looking for : 近音檢字法 – Alex Sep 21 '15 at 17:36
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    Characters aren't really relevant to this. You should learn pinyin (or another transcription system). Then practice distinguishing cononants that are difficult for you. Based on the examples you gave, I don't think you'll find the kind of resource you want. After all, Chinese people don't have difficulty distinguishing zh/ch/ch/j/q/x. Also for learners, what's difficult for you is different than someone with a different native language. E.g., zh and sh have always sounded completely different to me. – Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 22 '15 at 1:35
  • @StumpyJoePete : Agree with you, different difficulties arise among different people. But maybe some set of common "traps" are identified for groups of people with the same mother language... – Starnuto di topo Sep 28 '15 at 7:11
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    Well, based on what you have said, I'd focus on the aspirated/unaspirated distinction. For instance b vs p, d vs t, zh vs ch, j vs q, etc. This seems to be a common problem for Europeans whose native lang. only distinguishes voicing. Also, sounds that are difficult for many foreigners in my exp. include the zh/ch/sh vs j/q/x, r, u vs ü, (z/c/s)i vs (z/c/s)e, and tones in general. – Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 28 '15 at 15:43

Have you had problems noticing the difference between "sheer" and "cheer", or "jeep" and "cheap"? If not, then your problem is solved. For European people, it is strongly recommended that they read articles with Pinyin (literally "Spelled Pronunciation").
Why characters are not relevant to their pronunciations? Chinese has so LONG a history that pronunciations have been changed for dozens (if not hundreds) of times. Even a Chinese can't figure out why 工(gong, "work") represents the pronunciation of 江(jiang, "river"). Logically it should be, but it is not! Then Pinyin was invented to represent the pronunciation of characters. We only need to accept the fact and remember it. Leave the questions to linguists.
One more thing: You can find quite a lot of texts with Pinyin in children's books. Chinese textbooks of Grade 1 or 2 in primary schools also help. (Confucius said, you should not feel ashamed to learn from people inferior to you. ;-))

  • This is not the point. Have you ever noticed the difficulties of Spanish in distinguishing the sound (vowels) of "jeep", "cheap", "ship"? Or of English in distinguishing Italian's double consonants (think of English's "regatta", from Italian's "regata", or how English pronounce "benvenuTTo" instead of "benvenuto"), or Russian's "ы", "й", "и"? So, back to my question, I'm looking for something that says: "Warning: be careful, the following words have quite similar sound: don't make confusion!" – Starnuto di topo Sep 28 '15 at 7:07
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    I've never heard of that thing; I feel that Chinese vowels and consonants are easy to distinguish, compared to Italian or Russian. The real challenge lies on tonal systems. If there must be a thing you want, it should be in your Chinese textbook written in your mother language. – Aurus Huang Sep 28 '15 at 7:37

For sound similarity, have a look at these short stories:


(Story of Stone Grotto Poet: Eating Lions)



















Also, have a look at this:
A 600-word story composed with words with similar sounds.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

  • Tonal system is quite hard for Europeans, but this is off-topic for this question. – Aurus Huang Sep 28 '15 at 7:33

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