Practical conclusion from the responses: No digital media currently focus on the precise pronunciation of Pinyin Dao, or Beijing for English speaking students of Chinese. You must look to sources on IPA on line or for purchase.

Most English speakers need explicit phonological explanation of how to speak the distinction of voiced /b,d/ from unvoiced /p,t/, along with hearing it demonstrated. We typically cannot hear it from demonstration alone, let alone produce it, because this contrast is changing in English usage (and other Germanic languages as well). The very complicated current situation is described at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_(phonetics)

The issue is not just this one word Dao but includes at least b and d as initial consonants in Pinyin. Every expert work I have looked at on the issue agrees with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoism%E2%80%93Taoism_romanization_issue#Notes

They say the initial of 道 /Dao is a tenuis voiceless alveolar plosive, close to the IPA symbol [t], but although Pinyin d is unvoiced, it often gives the impression of being voiced to the untrained ear. And because Pinyin d has no voiced alveolar plosive allophone in Mandarin, native Chinese speakers do not find it important when foreigners say it voiced.

On the other hand, English speakers actually distinguish between the tenuis voiceless alveolar plosive (the Pinyin d or the t of "stop") and the d of "dog," but are not good at hearing the distinction, because they are allophones of one phoneme in English.

This question on English stackexchange bears on the matter: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/203866/pronunciation-of-st-when-is-it-sd-and-when-st It confirms what @Janus Bahs Jacquet says in a comment below, that the English usage is pretty variable.

I'd like to have some good models for how to pronounce these things. I know about the "t" in "top" versus "stop." I can do that as an exercise. And I am beginning to think that may be the best approach I can take. But I'd still like to hear some carefully pronounced models of the Mandarin words.

Can anyone point me to a web site or a cd where I can hear careful examples of these distinctions?

  • 1
    Related: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/16959/… tl;dr: If you pronounced pinyin "d" as /d/, you will not be misunderstood, even though it should be /t/. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 28 '16 at 23:12
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    I admit that my ear was already reasonably well-trained when I started studying Mandarin (and my other native language, Danish, have tenues voiceless stops instead of voiced ones, too, which I'm sure helped), but I have never heard a Mandarin /b d g/ as voiced. They've always been very clearly unvoiced to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 29 '16 at 4:16
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    @colin-mclarty : I think you meant /p,t/ & /b,d/. – vermillon Jan 31 '16 at 12:50
  • @vermillon Yes! Corrected now. – Colin McLarty Jan 31 '16 at 14:24
up vote 7 down vote accepted

As a Mandarin native speaker I pronounce 道 exactly same as 到,稻。 I pronounce the initial d exactly same as in dog or dad.

I also pronounce t exactly in the same way for stop. The native English pronunciation of dog and stop might be different, but to my ESL ears, they are exactly same.


Added: Here is a video teaching Pinyin Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Pronunciation. In the video the girl pronounces initials and finals 100% correctly.

Here is another online tool teaching Pinyin 汉语拼音全套flash. Scroll down and look for these flashes:

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The male pronunciations are also 100% correct.

  • 4
    Apparently Chinese speakers and English speakers both tend to hear the English pronunciation of dog the same way we hear stop. But experts say the first is voiced and the second is not. I can almost hear a difference between them if I try really hard. But I am not happy about it and I wish I could hear it more clearly. – Colin McLarty Jan 29 '16 at 1:28
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    @ColinMcLarty The problem is that the /d/ in dog isn't necessarily voiced in English. There's an awful lot of variation, both between dialects, individual speakers, and individual utterances within the same speaker, in the degree of voicing that occurs in initial stops. Final stops are more reliable: you should be able to hear the difference in voicing between bob and bop more clearly (not only because of the clipped vowel preceding the /p/). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 29 '16 at 4:13
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    @ColinMcLarty Traditionally voiced, but it has become increasingly devoiced in the past half century. Similar changes have already occurred in other Germanic languages. To see this difference, look at 'b' in about and boat. The first one is between two vowels, so it is voiced by almost everyone. – user58955 Jan 29 '16 at 6:07

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