They have the same pinyin, but I have had an interesting issue when using my phone's voice-to-speech feature.

My Chinese friend can say a sentence involving 医生 and it comes up correct for him, however when I say it, maybe it's because of my accent but it comes up as 一生 even though the tones I use are the same.

I would get it right if I say 医生 on its own, but as soon as I add even a little behind it (e.g. 他们的医生) it would come up as 一生

  • Do both of you use the same device/phone when performing voice translation?
    – r13
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 15:42
  • Yes we both tried it on the iPhone using the microphone key on the Chinese keyboard
    – eancu
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 17:12
  • Then ask him to say 一生 and see the result :)
    – r13
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 23:49
  • ASR is not perfect. When both interpretations are valid, how can ASR decide which one is the one you want?
    – fefe
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 0:35
  • There are many variables, not just tone or accent. Speech speed, the words before and after the words in question, whether it's a bare statement or a question also affects the resultant tone. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 4:26

3 Answers 3


医生 with the pronunciation of yi1 sheng1.

一生 with the pronunciation of yi4 sheng1.

My suggestion is when you pronounce 医生, you can have a pause before and after this word, and also pronounce "医" and "生" with same duration of time. Like "yi1" (0.5 second) and "sheng1" (0.5 second). What I mean by that is these two characters have the same importance here.

In case of “一生”, since "一" in this case is more like an adjective, it means "the whole amount of time" and "生" is the noun, "life". So the duration of the time will be "yi1" (0.2 second) and "sheng1" (0.5 second), which means "生" is more important than "一" in this case.

  • 1
    This is the answer that points out the subtle difference that non-native speakers only overlook. We should advocate such answers to help learners who can (presumably) otherwise hardly learn from text books.
    – ALife
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 4:10
  • I do think undersand meaning of each caracter is the correct way to learn Chinese. But even for local speakers, Chinese is taught mainly by remembering but not uderstanding. Chinese grammar, lexicography and syntax are as important as vocabulary like all other languages, although I know rarely about it... Also, simplified Chinese losts its semantic-phonetic compound meanings. I am not saying that traditional chinese is better, indeed it is more complicated to read and write. But in my point of view, the traditional Chinese carater is the real semantic-phonetic compound character.
    – GUO.P.JD
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 10:54
  • when adjcent words with same tone/accent, some of them required to be adjusted, e.g 一切 (yi2),处理(chu2)。Pronunication of Chinese requires 抑扬顿挫, speaker should take lowest-cost syllable to save efforts, e.g. you won't pronounce words with many adjacent 4-tone characters because it takes more efforts, you should give yourself some rest, so avoid long adjacent 'short' or 'quick' syllables, use them alternately instead. Commented May 13, 2022 at 4:01

In this case, tone sandi plays a role. I would pronounce 医生 as yi1 sheng1 and 一生 as yi4 sheng1.

That way we can easily differentiate them.

  • 3
    As a native speaker, I joined this site trying to help others to learn my language. But this kind of question keep amazing me and make me realize some subtle things that I'm constantly doing without even noticing them. Yes they have the same pingyin but Dan is correct about the tone sandi. I just want to point out that when we say 一生, not only does 一 become yi4, but also it is getting a shorter duration. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 14:31
  • Thanks so much for your answer - whilst it is correct, in my case specifically it turns out the speed/time of each syllable is what was causing issues with my phone's voice-to-text. It is true that doing yi4 sheng1 registers it correctly, but I was having issues getting yi1 sheng1 to register correctly
    – eancu
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 16:44

As an addition to the answer above:

一 can be yi4 when say 一生, and yi2 when say 一辈子, although their meanings are similar. It depends on the pronunciation of the character after 一.




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