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I'm struggling with some sounds in Chinese. I can't distinguish J, Q, X initials and Z, C, S initials. I feel that they are pronounced similarly. Am I right? Can you tell me how to pronounce these initials correctly?

  • Try these English spelling for J, Q, X: gee, chi, shi(but with smiling face). And for Z and C, try to pronounce from your teeth. – Shaw Jan 22 at 19:52
  • Updated, gee, chee, shee, with smiling face. – Shaw Jan 22 at 21:46
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most of the time you don't need to distinguish them. JQX are always followed by i or ü, which never happens with ZCS. In fact, in many dialects, JQX are pronounced as ZCS. People will understand you with 0 confusion or information loss.

On the other hand, if you do wish to improve your pronunciation, try this:

enter image description here

ZCS are articulated between your teeth and gum. English J and Sh are pronounced more back. JQX are even more back, but before palatal consonants like y in "yes" or German ch in "China", which is why they're called alveolo-palatal.

Just try to feel the continuous spectrum, it'll be hard to step on the exact point where JQX are pronounced, but it's definitely reachable. With sufficient training you'll surely remember that location.

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The way I think of it is that they are pronounced similarly, except they are used with different vowels, as you can see in a Pinyin table. Vowels starting with an "i" or "ü" sound are only used with J, Q, and X (except that "ü" is written as "u" since there is no need to disambiguate), whereas vowels starting with an "a", "e", "o", or "u" sound, or the special "i" sound like in "si", are only used with Z, C, and S.

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Q = Ch (as an "chocolate")
X = Sh (as in "shower")
J = J (as in "Jennifer")
Z = Ds (as in "beds", plural of "bed")
C = Ts (as in "cats", plural of "cat")
S = S (as in "sand")

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