Explanation of Chinese Alphabet

Chinese is quite different from English and other languages. With other languages, you usually start out learning that language’s alphabet. Thus, you might think that there is also a Chinese Alphabet. However, Chinese is not constructed by the Roman letters that other languages use. As you can see from the picture below, Chinese’s speaking and writing systems are not the same at all. The whole syllable is considered as the basis of the speaking system, while the character is the basis of its written system. This makes the language more symbol-based, and this aspect makes it quite different from other languages.

pinyin syllable

Writing characters in Chinese is a bit like drawing a picture. Each character is constructed by several strokes, and it has its own pronunciation as well, which can be transcribed in the Pinyin system. You can pronounce every single sound in Chinese using Pinyin. Upon encountering Pinyin the first time, you may feel that it is quite familiar since the system uses English letters. However, the pronunciation of each letter is different from English. The Pinyin syllable is usually made up of 3 parts, which are called the initial, the final, and the tone. There are total of 21 initials, 36 finals (6 of which are basic finals), and 4 tones. Once you master this so-called “Chinese Alphabet”, you can easily spell all Chinese characters even if you’ve never encountered them before.

We have made a PDF of the “Chinese Alphabet” for you. You can also click to see the Pinyin Chart to listen to the audio of the Chinese pronunciation system.