I've been "speaking" Chinese my entire life, and I can hear, understand, and reproduce the different sounds. I've just never paid much attention to it. It hasn't occurred to me much until recently when I type in Chinese that I often put "ch" instead of "c" or vice versa. I'm now starting to worry that my pronunciation isn't as understandable as I thought it to be. So is there a way to relearn the correct pronunciation of all these characters? For the more obviously different words like 四 and 十, I will subconsciously make the difference, but for other more complex words, not so much.

Thanks in advance!

  • I'd just look up a dictionary, collect all sh characters, put them on a piece of paper. Do the same for s characters too. You keep these two pieces of paper and review them everyday. Pretty soon, you'll remember which character should be pronounced with sh, which with s. You can also do this for z, zh and c, ch.
    – joehua
    Apr 30, 2021 at 5:16
  • Don't go to 南京:是 = si, 十 = si, don't go to 泰州:不是的 = b si dei
    – Pedroski
    May 1, 2021 at 7:58
  • Wait till you hear Australians speak English :) Sep 27, 2021 at 2:49

2 Answers 2


I think the easiest way to handle these two pronunciations is to know the difference in position of the tongue when pronouncing them. The pictures below show the correct positions.

Let's start with the easy one, "s", as in 思, 死, 四. It is the same as the ending sound of "s", or the beginning of a word with "s" be the first letter. The sound is produced with air through the gap of the teeth while the tip of the tongue touches the lower tooth. The lips are open.

"sh", as in 師, 時, 使, 是, is the more difficult one, it is difficult to even the native speakers, whom, similar to the English, there is no such sound in their's dialogues. However, luckily, the method to make that sound pronounced correctly is similar to the letter "r", that is the tongue needs to be curled up with the tip of the tongue close to, or barely touches, the upper plate of the mouth. Unlike "r", there is the air that flows out from between the tongue and the upper plate to make the sound. The lips remain open as well. (Note, do not over curl the tongue as in "r", you can keep the tongue slightly tilt up let the tip get close to the front upper plate.)

Once you know the difference, it is quite easy to distinguish the two.
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  • This is a great andswer! Yes, Mandarin "s" is the same as the English "s" while Mandarin "sh" is different than the English "sh". As a native Chinese speaker whose hometown dialect has no "sh", it was a struggle for me to pronounce the Mandarin "sh" correctly growing up. Nowadays, since I'm fluent in English and living in a Western country, my Chinese "sh" is shifting towards English "sh", just because it takes less effort to do English "sh". Haha, don't be like me please. I'm just lazy. Jan 25, 2022 at 14:28

From my point of view, “sh” is more likely to be pronounced as “sh” in “shine”.

And “s” is more like “s” in “select”.

In fact, even native speakers don’t always pronounce them correctly, some dialects don’t even consider them different.

So you may not worry too much about that, if you speak mandarin a lot, I don’t think your pronunciation could be possibly bad.

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