The challenge – Consonants

In the last installment of this series, I touch upon what is actually a practical problem only, but a problem nevertheless: speaking understandably.

From my childhood, I got this idea that Chinese people express themselves rather explosively and with an abundant use of ‘s’ and ‘l’ sounds. The thing is, it’s actually worse. Count the consonants having an s-sound in the first 40 seconds of 2. Pinyin (Initial Consonants : b,p,m,p,d,t,n,l,g,k,h,j,q,x,z,y,w) (*). Even my favorite YellowBridge finds it necessary to provide biological guidance. Have a look at the top row of the Initials and Finals Table. Gray’s Anatomy not included.

Getting this right will require a lot of practice. I believe it is even more difficult than speaking the tones correctly. In my opinion, this is because our own ear – and that of my fellow-students – is rather forgiving about mistakes here. However, as I have experienced in talking to them, native Chinese are left truly and utterly confused since for instance ‘zheng’, ‘cheng’ and ‘sheng’ are at least 3 different words (**).

Practice indeed.
I will be talking to my computer ( recording and playing it back ), to my Chinese colleague with whom I have lunch almost every Tuesday, to my class. And – this is new – to some acquaintances of my teacher who organizes a speak-in every third Sunday of the month. Starting next Sunday.
More on this next week.

Previous post on this topic – The Challenge – The sound of the character

(*) 9 of of 23.
(**) It’s even more complicated ‘zheng’ alone has 17 different meanings in the first tone, none in the second tone, but 4 in the third and 11 in the fourth tone; 33 in total. ‘Cheng’ has 49 in total and ‘sheng’ has 27.


One Response to The challenge – Consonants

  1. Marc says:

    I can only repeat: RESPECT!!!


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