Thursday, October 11, 2012

The "strict photographer" guide to pinyin pronunciation

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled The "sleeping cats" guide to pinyin pronunciation, which was actually one of my more popular posts, I guess because amongst all the beginners learning Chinese, it sometimes is the really simple stuff which is most confusing.

Today, while doing flashcards, the sentence below popped up again, which reminded me of a common pronunciation mistake I used to make (and probably still make, I'm just in denial!) - and that triggered a desire to write another "pinyin pronunciation" guide - which is this post.

 - "Hold that pose, don't move," said the photographer.
 - "Bǎo​chí nage zī​shì, bié dòng," shèyǐng​shī shuō.
 - “保持那个姿势,别动,” 摄影师说。

I can't remember where I found this sentence, but somehow it made it into my flashcard pack. And reading it today immediately reminded me of how much difficulty I had at the beginning differentiating between pinyin's 'she' and 'shi' - and both sounds appear in the word for 'photographer' which is why this is a particularly interesting word (for beginners) or interesting sentence (for intermediates).

The first syllable of ''shèyǐng​shī" is shè, which actually rhymes with the end of the word 'photographer' or perhaps I can even say 'photograph-uh'. The final syllable shī might best be written as 'shr' - sounding as if there is no vowel.

Perhaps if you hear it pronounced correctly, it would be easier to understand?  So visit​, (my favourite online dictionary, which I've written about before) and specifically look up the word photographer.  You can hear it pronounced by clicking on (>>) and then on the audio button. Do it.

So there you have it - a relatively common pronunciation mistake for beginners, but if you learn just one word correctly - photographer - you will have a clear picture of how to say it correctly. Forever.

PS. If you haven't read it already, I've written a post in the past about the mispronunciation of the word 'pronunciation'. Check it out.


  1. Thank you for pointing this out. It is good to be aware of this as I think I tend to get very lazy with my Mandarin pronunciation. Though I reckon I might not be the only one. You've also given me a reason to learn some vocab I don't yet know so that sentence will be added to my Anki deck.

    Just for interest's sake I had a look in's dictionary to see what other words there were where those two syllables 'she' and 'shi' followed one another. Think that might be good for practising these two and getting the difference right. (Not that I think any of those words listed are really as useful for everyday conversation but should be good for reviewing pronunciation.)

  2. Hi Peckish, thanks for your comment. And thanks for the links - yes, those are really short words that use both sounds - appreciate the input. Let me dig around in the dictionary (something to do with snakes to get the same sound) and see what I can come up with!

  3. Pronunciation is the way a phrase or a vocabulary is used, or the manner in which someone utters a phrase. If you are said to have got "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both inside a particular dialect. How to pronounce London place-names