Since I have some experience of using IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), I thought Standard Chinese transcriptions could be a good resource for practicing my pronunciation. Is such a resource available?

  • There is a transcription table on wikipedia containing some Chinese characters represented by IPA.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 15:04

3 Answers 3


As you probably know, in China they use pinyin to describe the pronunciation. Dictionaries will normally always mention the pinyin for the characters.

Here you can find the link between pinyin and IPA:

This is a website that will generate both Pinyin and IPA for a certain text: https://code.google.com/p/transcripa/wiki/Mandarin

In Chinese tones change depending on the context, but the pronunciation itself much less so. Especially if you take what is considered as Standard Chinese (what they speak on CCTV), this is not expected to happen.

In my humble option, it is best that you learn Pinyin as it will help you in the long run.

Although it is not what you are asking for this website might also be very interesting for you: http://lost-theory.org/chinese/phonetics/

For every possible pinyin you can hear the pronunciation.

  • By the way: IPA and Pinyin do not have the same role. Pinyin is simply a romanization system and is not universal (Q is pronounced as "tch" in English, while Italian pronounces it as K), while IPA displays the actual sounds being uttered universally (a certain symbol always and unequivocally represents a certain sound).
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 18:16
  • Thank you, but I'm more interested in actual transcriptions from speech, to study how the pronunciation of words change in different contexts.
    – user2493
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 21:37
  • @Alenanno: This discussion is off-topic and I' pretty sure this won't convince you, but Pinyin is as universal for the Chinese language as IPA is. You should treat it as symbols (like IPA) and not as an alphabet that can be mapped to your language. If you would pronounce the alphabet used in IPA according to your language it would also as wrong as doing it for Pinyin.
    – BertR
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 8:23
  • @BertR That's impossible, you don't pronounce IPA according to your language, because it's universal. All symbols represent certain sounds, regardless of your language, so what you're saying doesn't hold the point. Pinyin, on the contrary, is not universal, it's been developed for Chinese only. For example, "Qing" is read differently if I used the Italian rules, Chinese, etc... But take any IPA transcription: that won't change because IPA is not dependent on single languages. After all it's the International Phonetic Alphabet.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 9:02
  • The letter Q in Italian has always a [k] sound. In Pinyin, it has a [tʃ] sound. This proves it's not universal, it changes if you change language (not always maybe but one instance is enough). Instead, [tʃ] represents always the same sound. Why? Because you're not relying on a usual alphabet, but rather on an alphabet that refers to sounds and sounds are the same across languages, they won't change. I could go on, but I hope it's clearer now.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 9:05

I want to note that if you have a relatively new computer, you have Chinese pinyin in your Input Language. Perhaps you can play around with the typing?

And Taiwanese use a different system to learn, called zhuyin, which looks like this:

ㄅㄆㄇㄈㄉㄊㄋㄌㄍㄎㄏㄐㄑㄒㄓㄔㄕㄖㄗㄘㄙㄧㄨㄩ ㄚㄛㄜㄝㄞㄟㄠㄡㄢㄣㄤㄥㄦ

Finally, you may easily be able to find Chinese speakers who would like to learn English pronunciation from you. Will you be interested?

  • As mentioned above, transliteration to from characters to pinyin is note the same as transcribing from speech to IPA. The latter is much more precise and the same word may get different transcriptions depending on its neighbors, since words usually are colored by context.
    – user2493
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 21:41
  • @JimmyCallin Would you prefer to learn from actual people then? I know plenty of Chinese who want to have better English oral skills.
    – shirleywu
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 8:55
  • Note that although zhuyin aka bopomofo is still used in Taiwan, pinyin did get official status there in 2009, and National Cheng Kung University (國立成大華語中心) uses pinyin in their classes.
    – 伟思礼
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 3:22

OP, you have stated that you want to "study how the pronunciation of words change in different contexts" by reading IPA transcriptions of Chinese speech. I think this might be difficult because:

  • Besides some well known Chinese-specific phenomena (e.g., 3rd tone tone-sandhi) and some pretty much universal phenomena (e.g., nasal assimilation), the pronunciation of individual words doesn't vary too much by context.
  • Dialectical differences (I'm talking within Mandarin) are a lot bigger than the context-sensitive effects (e.g., You could write a book about 儿化音, but it would not generalize particularly well to southern Mandarin speech).
  • If you were going to the trouble of transcribing the pronunciation of Chinese, you probably would aim for a phonemic transcription, rather than a tight phonetic one (e.g., you are a missionary or a foreign language learner). This means transcriptions will often lack exactly the things you're looking for.

Given the above difficulties, I might recommend trying to find an audio corpus of spoken Chinese. Some of the people at the wonderful blog Sinoglot have begun compiling such a corpus, with a variety of dialects and speakers; and transcribing the audio segments is part of the project: So, check out Phonemica.

  • 1
    Thank you for your input. And Phonemica – what an amazing website!
    – user2493
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 6:52
  • @JimmyCallin No problem! Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 19:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.