Introduction to Ting yi Ting

A self-paced course in Standard Chinese phonology and the Pinyin romanization system.

The goals of this online course are to help the learner acquire:

  1. an awareness of Standard Chinese phonology, including tones.
  2. the ability to distinguish phonemic differences, that is to hear the differences among the sounds of Chinese that differentiate meaning.
  3. an understanding of the relationship of the phonemes of Standard Chinese to Pinyin, a standardized system for writing Chinese using the Latin alphabet.
Notes for Learners

These materials focus primarily on ear training. The lessons include multiple exemplars of each target syllable and, in some cases, contrasting target syllables in a variety of voices. You will practice identifying the phonemic differences and get feedback on whether you are recognizing the phonemes correctly. With practice you will gradually learn to distinguish the phonemes of Standard Chinese.

We have included a numerous exemplars for each syllable so that you can become accustomed to the way that each phoneme is pronounced by a variety of speakers. As in all languages, individual speakers of different ages, regions, and backgrounds may pronounce a specific phoneme in slightly different ways, but the core characteristics of the sound are recognizable by other native speakers as the same phoneme. Think, for example, of the wide variations in pronunciation between the various dialects of English spoken in the United States. The New Englander who drops his Rs can usually communicate with little problem with the Southerner who lengthens all of her vowels.

The explicit goals of this course do not include better pronunciation, but we expect that ear training will help you to reproduce the target sounds more accurately. As you become more skilled at identifying phonemic differences in Chinese, you will also become more skilled at listening to yourself speak and correcting your own pronunciation.

How to use these materials

These lessons are divided into two sets. The first set offers ear training in tones. The second teaches initials and finals, as well as Pinyin spelling conventions. We recommend completing at least the first two lessons on tones before you begin the lessons on initials and finals.

The sequence of the lessons, particularly those in initial and finals, is generally designed to address the challenges of English speakers in learning Chinese. The lessons start with sounds that are similar to those in English or generally perceived by English speakers as easy to imitate and proceed in increasing difficulty. The lessons are designed according to a mastery learning paradigm. In other words, we recommend that you master the content of each lesson, demonstrated by achieving at least 80 percent on the diagnostic quiz, before proceeding to the next lesson. That being said, you may also find it useful to return to earlier lessons if you find that you are still having difficulty with a set of phonemes.

We generally recommend that you do not fixate upon the technical aspects of the phonology of Chinese. The primary goal is to be able to listen and comprehend authentic language and, when you are ready, to be able to produce comprehensible speech. This goal does not require the ability to “talk about” Chinese. We have, however, provided some linguistic descriptions and technical terms for those who are interested in also acquiring more linguistic knowledge about Chinese. We have also included instruction in how to “spell out loud” in Chinese so that you can learn to describe Chinese syllables accurately.