Although this question states that these sounds can be often mixed (though mainly in dialtects...)

Do you know where I could find a detailed description of position and movement of the tongue for these consonants - so as to learn how to make it sound properly.

For example I have very much difficutly making a different sound between 中 zhong1 and chong2 虫... because I don't know how to make them sound different. I feel like the zh should be a little more stronger, exploding. But on several audio excerpts, the ch is also strong.

Idem, I would say that x is a little more windy, and q has a soft and really short 'k' at the beginning of the beginning of the sound... but that's not precise enough to make it sound right all the time.

  • 1
    Stephane, where are you from? Your native language probably has a big influence on your perception of zh and ch as being similar. Sep 13, 2012 at 15:46
  • I am from France. Not many words pronounced with this phonem in french: most of foreign origin: Tchécolovaquie, Apparatchik... Sep 13, 2012 at 16:17
  • 3
    Stop consonants and aspirates can be divided into three kinds: voiced, unvoiced-unaspirated, and unvoiced-aspirated. (Aspirated consonants have a puff of air as they are released). For example, [b], [p], and [pʰ]. In French, you have "b"=[b] and "p"=[p]. In English, it's "b"=[b] and "p"=[pʰ]. (English "p" is not the same as French "p") In Mandarin, it's "b"=[p] and "p"=[pʰ]. So... your problem is that French doesn't have aspirated consonants. (And Mandarin doesn't have any voiced stops.) So, if you need something to imitate, try the unvoiced stops in English: "t"=[tʰ] "ch"=[tʃʰ] etc. Sep 13, 2012 at 16:26
  • learnchineseabc.com/chinese-pinyin-initials.htm has some step by step animations
    – tao
    Jul 23, 2013 at 16:00
  • 1
    @StumpyJoePete in fact you are missing "voiced-aspirated" (or breathy voiced) consonants, which are absent in Chinese but present e.g. in Hindi. Just to be complete :). As for English vs. French, that is true word-initially, but the aspiration is lost in the body of words, making English p = French p.
    – MickG
    Dec 14, 2014 at 22:12

3 Answers 3


The difference between zh and ch has nothing to do with the position of the tongue: these two are pronounced with the tongue in the same position; the difference is aspiration -- ch is aspirated while zh is not. Both are retroflex affricates.

x and q have less in common -- actually q and ch are much closer to an untrained ear, as they're both aspirated affricates -- the only difference being the position of the tongue, ch being a retroflex, and q an alveo-palatal. x on the other hand is not aspirated, and a fricative. Actually x is close to the German Ich-laut (except ch in Ich is a palatal rather than an alveo-palatal).

  • About the two consonants being aspirated... do you really mean breathing air IN while pronuncing ?. Sep 13, 2012 at 12:15
  • 1
    @StephaneRolland: Air should be coming out of your mouth. When you hold your hand before you mouth you should feel the difference.
    – BertR
    Sep 13, 2012 at 12:48
  • 1
    Aspirated consonant
    – dda
    Sep 13, 2012 at 12:51
  • @StephaneRolland, when you pronounce ch, in the first 0.5s, you will not feel the vibrating of your throat. The air comes out from your mouth, then ch and zh are the same at their 尾音 part Nov 10, 2013 at 5:36
  • @StephaneRolland, you know pillow talk, aspiration is like that. Nov 10, 2013 at 5:41

This is something that also always confuses me when reading pinyin... In zhuyin, though, the zh for zhong is ㄓ, while the ch in Chong is ㄔ, ㄓ is pronounced more like the English "dr" sound, and ㄔ is pronounced more like the English "tr" sound. Also, the qi sound is ㄑ,which is pronounced like the English "chi" sound, and the xi sound is ㄒ, which is pronounced like the English "she" sound.

Hope this helps!

  • Where are you from? The comparisons with dr and tr make sense, especially if you pronounce them retroflex. Jul 23, 2013 at 16:41
  • I'm Taiwanese American, my family moved here to study in America, which is where I was born, ive been to Taipei a few times to visit family and it's inspired me to learn traditional Chinese, however, it seems like no one really uses zhuyin anymore... Oh, Sorry, got a bit sidetracked...
    – Justin
    Jul 23, 2013 at 16:50
  • It's a dated form of transcription scheme that has largely been superceded by pinyin, even in Taiwan. I think this is largely due to pinyin being written in the Latin alphabet, which is easier to learn and type in this day and age. Jul 23, 2013 at 23:46
  • Most folks I know still use zhuyin, but perhaps we're old fashioned. It makes a whole lot more sense to me than pinyin ever did. While the approach is not the most orthodox I've seen, the comparison to "dr" and "tr" actually make sense to me if I run through it mehself.
    – Grace Note
    Jul 25, 2013 at 15:47
  • I find your descriptions of zh and ch very helpful, but not those for qi and xi. I find the English sh can be confused with both the Pinyin sh and x, while the English ch can be confused with both the Pinyin ch and q. But q can sound like ts as well as like ch ... Nov 9, 2013 at 9:07

Pronunciation differences between pinyin 'zh' and 'ch' are same as differences between 'ji' and 'qi', 'ge' and 'ke' ,'de' and 'te'; same as 't' in 'stop' and 't' in top.

Pronunciation differences between pinyin 'qi' and 'xi' are same as differences between 'ch' and 'sh' , 'c' and 's'; same as 'ch' in 'choose' and 'tion' in 'mention'.

And you may use Praat (http://www.fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/) to check if you pronounce them as Chinese.

  • She's French, she pronounces t's like Mandarin d's. Jul 23, 2013 at 3:44
  • @StumpyJoePete,thank you ,I have just known she is French. Jul 23, 2013 at 3:55

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