When I was first learning Chinese, I found the e4 - 饿 & ü3/ü4 - 女/绿 sounds to be the most problematic.

Has there been any research into this? If so, what sounds are generally the most problematic sounds for an initially monolingual English speaker to learn when studying Chinese?

  • it depends on which region the person comes from. People from south part (Guangdong, Guangxi for ex.) usually have difficulty with zh, ch ans sh, while those from middle part(Sichuan, Hunan) cannot pronounce L, so they replace it by n. – user706 May 14 '12 at 8:55
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    Thanks, but I'm asking about people who can initially speak only English who are learning Mandarin. – Michael Robinson May 14 '12 at 10:24
  • 俄 is e2, and 女 nv3 绿 lv4. – gonnastop May 14 '12 at 16:25
  • My bad, I meant 饿 – Michael Robinson May 14 '12 at 20:38
  • these should be 餓 for hungry and 綠 for green. – Rony May 15 '12 at 17:41

Not sure about research

From experience the sounds that people have the most issues with are:

  • the "r" sound when used at the beginning of a word. Best examples are 热 (re) and 日 (ri).

  • differentiating between zh & j, sh & x, ch & q.

  • the ü sound as in 魚 fish (I think that is the one you mentioned).

  • You're right about r, I remember having trouble with that as well – Michael Robinson May 14 '12 at 20:40
  • I'd add z/c/s as well :). A friend of mine who is learning Mandarin has a lot of trouble even differentiating between them. – deutschZuid May 14 '12 at 21:16
  • @JamesJiao yes this is true - in first year I remember a lot of people just couldn't tell. Also s/sh – Michael Robinson May 15 '12 at 20:23
  • To be fair, plenty of Chinese people don't differentiate s and sh, and Chongqing people pronounce 'r-' as a voiced 's-' (IPA's [z], not pinyin's z). 如果 = zu guo. – dda May 31 '14 at 2:15
  • I have found in the case of differentiating s and sh that tone seems to play a lot more importance. If you look at the obious example of 4 and 10 si[4] and shi[2] you can say si[2] for ten and they will understand with no problem, because they seem to listen for the tone more than the actual sound. – Matthew Dolman Jun 2 '14 at 1:21

To be native,

for Mandarin Chinese speakers, the most difficult is tongue rolling heavy gesture, which defacto necessary.

for Yue Chinese, the most difficult is its variety of tones over every languages.

Hardiest is Yue Chinese.

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