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Larry Language Lover

Pronunciation of xi

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Larry Language Lover

I noticed that sometimes xi can sound like the English "si" and with other letters like the English "shi".

What is the rule?   I've always understood that 喜欢 the first character sounds like "shi" in English,  but had a native say it where it sounded like "si"in English.

which is correct?

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889

China's a big country with a lot of regional variation, but in standard Chinese, xi and si are never pronounced alike. Notwithstanding they both end in i, they don't even rhyme. And there's also a big difference between x and sh: never the same either.

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Larry Language Lover

Sorry, I wasn't very clear.  I dont mean pinyin compared to pinyin,  I'm trying to find the closest equivalant in English sounds.  Native Chinese people understand right away what I'm

saying when I say these words so I don't think I'm too far off.  When my native teacher went over the consonant vowel combinations with me as a review recently, she kept saying 很好 over and over and if it wasn't OK would say it again and make me repeat it again before moving on.    

 

Can anybody tell me what is the closest English sound equivalent to the pinyin "x" in xi3huan1  喜欢?

 

I know x- q- and j- sounds in pinyin simply do not exist in English, that they are new sounds.  Just trying to find the closest English sound.

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suMMit

I think knowing how/where to position your tongue is the most important thing for "Xi"

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歐博思
1 hour ago, Larry Language Lover said:

I know x- q- and j- sounds in pinyin simply do not exist in English, that they are new sounds.  Just trying to find the closest English sound.

"She" for someone with a lisp.

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889

Looking for "close" English sounds will not help. Best to work with your teacher on pairs that show the difference, like 喜事 and 实习. Tongue placement and air flow are the keys.

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mackie1402

I understand what you mean, and I think the confusion is usually based on where people are from. I live in Hangzhou and all the locals don't really pronounce the 'h' in a lot of sounds like 'sha' (sounds like sa) and 'zha' sounds like 'za'.

 

It really confused me at first, when half the people would understand when I was asking where 杭州大厦 was, but the other half didn't understand. Turned out I was speaking with a local accent and saying Hangzhou da sa and not Hangzhou da sha. Again, when I tried to order draft beer, I would say za pi and not zha pi (扎啤). A lot of these words I picked up from my wife (who is a local). Around here it gets real confusing when you ask how much something costs and it's 14 or 40! 

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Larry Language Lover
3 hours ago, mackie1402 said:

I understand what you mean, and I think the confusion is usually based on where people are from. I live in Hangzhou and all the locals don't really pronounce the 'h' in a lot of sounds like 'sha' (sounds like sa) and 'zha' sounds like 'za'.

 

 

I'm a beginner and don't know a lot,  I've actually only been using 3 apps to learn.  Duolingo is my main one, and then there is HelloChinese and ChineseSkill.  I'm happy with my progress so far I guess because sending my voice recordings to native speakers they understand right away what I'm saying.  I actually haven't studied Chinese at all outside of these apps and have never been to a class,  but because I go to language websites a lot, I get banner ads for the languages I'm working on.  I've gotten some from schools in China and from companies with online native teachers offering free trial lessons with native teachers.  So far I've done 4 trial lessons over the last several months.  One was from Keats Chinese School, two were from Verbalplanet, and the other I don't remember, but I've actually seen him on two websites.  He is an official teacher for the Chinese association that administers the HSK exams.  All of them said I have good pronunciation when they go over the pinyin combination table with me.  The Haban teacher ( I think that's what the association is called)

said he is surprised I have only used Duolingo mostly.  He said many Americans have great difficulty to produce these sounds.  They wrote "good pronunciation" in their online evaluations.  The Keats School teacher also said I have good pronunciation.  Who knows, maybe they are just trying to sell more lessons?  I do know that random Chinese people on chat sites understand when I say sentences.

I've not taken any test to confirm but the first time I did a free trial, the guy said my level was HSK 2.  The two free lessons this month both said HSK 3.  The last one was yesterday, and that's what inspired my initial question when she went over the combinations of pinyin such as xi, xia, xüe,etc.   I heard a different pronunciation from her that I hadn't noticed before.   I also noticed from the Yabla audio pinyin chart a difference between xi and xia for example. The second one seems to contain an "h" sound while the first does not.

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Larry Language Lover

I didn't really understand the method the teacher was using yesterday.  I think it was pinyin combinations.  She said there is a method they use with Americans normally but she changed and said that she was going to teach me the way Chinese people learn.

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anonymoose

If there were exact equivalents in English, then Chinese would be easy to pronounce. The reason why xi is difficult to grasp is because there isn't an equivalent in English.

 

Having said that, one thing that helped me early on is the realisation that in Taiwan, x is often transcribed as hs, which I feel makes much more sense to an English speaker.

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NinjaTurtle

Larry,

 

xi-shi

 

It is my understanding that “xi” sounds like the English word “she” and that “shi” sounds like the English word “should” (without the “d” sound). That may not be entirely accurate but it is close enough to work for me.

 

The problem is that Pinyin has to use five vowels to represent six vowel sounds. So they had to come up with a system where certain consonants double up, do “double-duty”, and show when the Pinyin vowel “i” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “she” and when it sounds like the vowel sound in “should”. To do this, they use shi to indicate the vowel sound in the English word “should”.

 

qi-chi

 

It is the same with qi and chi. The Pinyin vowel in “qi” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “cheap” and “chi” sounds like the second vowel sound in “fortune.

 

ji-zhi

 

It is the same with ji and zhi. The Pinyin vowel in  “ji” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “Jeep” and “zhi” sounds like the second vowel sound in “prejudice”

 

Look at the large Pinyin table in the middle of this Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin_table

 

Look at the ZH, CH, and SH columns on the top right side of the page. These three columns are grouped together because they all have the vowel sound like the English word “should”.

 

These comparisons of mine are probably not 100% similar to what the Chinese sounds really are, but they are close enough for me.

 

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vellocet
33 minutes ago, NinjaTurtle said:

It is my understanding that “xi” sounds like the English word “she”

It doesn't.  There's your problem.

 

She is said with the tongue tip, xi is said with the tongue blade.  Native speakers can hear the difference even if you can't.  "HS" comes closest to this sound, although it is still too far back on the tongue.  

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Larry Language Lover
56 minutes ago, vellocet said:

It doesn't.  There's your problem.

 

She is said with the tongue tip, xi is said with the tongue blade.  Native speakers can hear the difference even if you can't.  "HS" comes closest to this sound, although it is still too far back on the tongue. 

 

 

I only meant a very rough approximation without little diagrams of tongue, teeth, and throat like you find on the internet.  I didn't want to write a detailed explanation of tongue position in the mouth.  One place I read said tongue down and toward the bottom teeth or something to that effect.

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Larry Language Lover
1 hour ago, NinjaTurtle said:

xi-shi

 

It is my understanding that “xi” sounds like the English word “she” and that “shi” sounds like the English word “should” (without the “d” sound). That may not be entirely accurate but it is close enough to work for me.

 

The problem is that Pinyin has to use five vowels to represent six vowel sounds. So they had to come up with a system where certain consonants double up, do “double-duty”, and show when the Pinyin vowel “i” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “she” and when it sounds like the vowel sound in “should”. To do this, they use shi to indicate the vowel sound in the English word “should”.

 

qi-chi

 

It is the same with qi and chi. The Pinyin vowel in “qi” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “cheap” and “chi” sounds like the second vowel sound in “fortune.

 

ji-zhi

 

It is the same with ji and zhi. The Pinyin vowel in  “ji” sounds like the vowel sound in the English word “Jeep” and “zhi” sounds like the second vowel sound in “prejudice”

 

 

 

This is actually a quite helpful approximation.   I remember the first time I did a trial lesson,  the teacher corrected my typical English pronunciation of shi- chi- and zhi-

I learned that they are a "thicker" sound with a more "scrunched up" mouth, but now that I think about it,  "chi" does sound like the "tu" in fortune and "zhi" kind of like the "ju" in prejudice.

Before I was saying "chi"  like "cheese" lol.

 

I think listening and practice are the key.   I went through a similar thing with the "u" in French and to a lesser extent "eu" (and roughly the same sounds in German's "ö" and "ü".

I was overly conscious of trying to get the right mouth and tongue position, even researched it on the internet, saw the little diagrams, even listened to explanation videos.

I actually found it more of a hindrance personally when you concentrate to much on your own mouth and are not relaxed.   Finally French contacts were telling me your pronunciation is just fine for these sounds and I was relaxed and not fighting to put my mouth and tongue consciously like the description and diagrams that you find from online teachers,  it was more natural. 

 

The thing is, it is hard to describe sounds that do not exist in English, in a written form and be understood.

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vellocet

Well, it's only by learning where the tongue goes to pronounce xi that you can ever say it correctly.  Saying it "she" is just plain wrong.  It's as wrong as Chinese people pronouncing "with" as "wizz".  They're not putting their tongues in the right place.  Xi (and qi, and others) are pronounced using mouth positions that simply don't occur in English.  

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Larry Language Lover

One instructional website tries to explain it like this:

 

"Pronouncing Pinyin's "x" Sound
To learn to make these new sounds, start with the pinyin "x-" sound. You may have heard that it's pronounced like English "sh" or seen it written as the somewhat confusing "hs." Neither of these is particularly helpful; you just have to learn to make a new sound.


To make the pinyin "x-" sound, try to make a "sh" sound while the tip of your tongue is down, below your lower front teeth. The middle of your tongue should rise to the roof of your mouth to make the sound. This should feel weird, because this is not something you normally do in English."

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Larry Language Lover
8 minutes ago, vellocet said:

Well, it's only by learning where the tongue goes to pronounce xi that you can ever say it correctly.  Saying it "she" is just plain wrong.  It's as wrong as Chinese people pronouncing "with" as "wizz".  They're not putting their tongues in the right place.  Xi (and qi, and others) are pronounced using mouth positions that simply don't occur in English. 

 

Very true.  My original post was only to find out whether in the word 喜欢 the "xi" part (with tongue in correct position) should sound more similar to the English "si" or the English "shi"..(with or without the "h" sound)...again just rough approximations.   

After posting,  I did remember the Yabla audio pinyin combinations table which was helpful.

 

https://chinese.yabla.com/chinese-pinyin-chart.php

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889

You will never ever speak Chinese well if you insist on finding English cognates for Chinese sounds. It's a road to ruin.

 

To repeat what I have said again and again here, THE overwhelming problem learning Chinese is speaking so that native speakers can understand you. You can study for years and still draw blank faces when you say the simplest things.Take Chinese sounds as Chinese sounds, period.

 

Otherwise, your next steps down that road to ruin will find you thinking that 是 means is.

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Larry Language Lover
40 minutes ago, 889 said:

You will never ever speak Chinese well if you insist on finding English cognates for Chinese sounds. It's a road to ruin.

 

To repeat what I have said again and again here, THE overwhelming problem learning Chinese is speaking so that native speakers can understand you. You can study for years and still draw blank faces when you say the simplist things.Take Chinese sounds as Chinese sounds, period.

 

Otherwise, the next steps down that road to ruin will find you thinking that 是 means is.

 

 

That's one of the reasons why I'm actually upbeat and encouraged in this learning process because even though I have never studied Chinese and never been to China and I have only been learning for a little over a year with Duolingo, I've found that native Chinese people understand me when I speak.  Chinese who are not teachers accustomed to foreign attempts but just regular Chinese.  I send voice recordings and ask if they understand me.   They respond by writing in Chinese characters what I just said.  During this time, I haven't been concentrating on Chinese either because I spend more time with maintaining an improving French and German and learning Italian.  What started basically as a French addiction and obsession has expanded lol.   I have found that even Google voice translate understands me (not always however) when I say something in Chinese and writes the characters I'm saying and the English meaning.  This is a bit weird to me because as an American living in Spain for 20 years,  I've found that Google translate sometimes mistakes what I say in English or in Spanish!!

 

People had told me that they knew people who had studied Chinese formally for years or even lived in China for several years and had found making progress extremely difficult.   One parent told me that their son has been studying Chinese for years in the school and almost can't say a complete sentence in chinese.

 

It is indeed the most difficult language I have ever tried and progress is excruciatingly slow compared to learning European languages and I have felt like giving up and starting a language like Portuguese instead at times but.....baby steps I guess.

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