I like to practice my Mandarin with staff at a 茶館 (tea house). After my months of trying, and after their months guffawing at me, they advise me that my pronunciation of 茶館 STILL sounds like 察館 (police station)! Assistance please!

Can someone write both out in IPA, and stress the phonological differences? Perhaps seeing the IPA transcription shall assist me, instead of Pinyin.

  • For a Chinese Mainlander 茶 and 察 is exactly the same. I guess the workers at the teahouse are actually speaking Cantonese, which I also have no idea. Maybe you need to adjust your question a little. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 9:10
  • @march_happy no. I am referring Mandarin. We were NOT speaking Cantonese!
    – User
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 9:41
  • 1
    @User What location / where do the owners of the tea house come from?
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 12:18
  • I agree with Michaelyus. In mainland standard Mandarin, "police station" is 警察局/警局/警署. 察馆 sounds very unnatural to me. I googled and the first result yielded is referring to a Hong Kong TV drama, 《暗战》. "最重要噶就系,冇死系察馆", which is obviously Cantonese. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 14:17
  • BTW, people in eastern/northern part of China nowdays usually doesn't keep the habit of drinking tea at a tea house. You have to take those workers' dialect into consideration. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


In standard mandarin: 茶館

pinyin: cháguǎn

In standard mandarin: 察館

pinyin: cháguǎn

IPA for both: t͡ɕa̠kã̠ɴ

In standard mandarin there is no difference as they are homophones, pronounced exactly the same. However, please keep in mind that mandarin is spoken in multiple countries and across billions of people. Most people do not speak completely standard mandarin-- unless they are a newscaster getting fined or dubbing a drama.

It's very likely the difference that you are talking about is specific to the locality, or perhaps an accent to mandarin from another chinese language. I recognize 察館 as a visual pun to refer to being called in by the police to "drink tea", but do not know which area may pronounce it differently. If you have any info on the relevant area, it will be possible for us to try to find the pronunciation difference for you.

  • Based on all the guffowing going on at the time, as described in the question, I believe it's also entirely possible this was simply a pun or a joke that wasn't received or understood in the spirit that was intended.
    – Sanchuan
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 10:29
  • @Sanchuan always possible. anyone learning a second language has encountered times where a joke they heard or made was not at all conveyed. either because the sense of humor wasn't the same, differences in language levels, or expectations of a joke not being there in the first place. I know I personally have been on both ends of a joke that was taken literally in chinese over the years.
    – zagrycha
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 19:22

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