4 English pronunciation challenges for native Mandarin Chinese speakers

Unlike English, Mandarin is a tonal language.  This means the meaning of a word depends on the tone with which it is said.

Mandarin Chinese speakers face 4 main challenges with pronunciation when speaking English:

1. Learning speech sounds that aren’t used in Mandarin, e.g.:

  • “v” as  in value or five;
  • “z” as in authorise;
  • “sh” as in share and punish;
  • “zh” as in vision or measure;
  • “ch” as in chairman or cheque;
  • “j” as in judge or gentleman;
  • unvoiced “th” as in thing; and
  • voiced “th” as in this or that.

2. Learning combinations or “clusters” of sounds found in English, but not used in Mandarin, e.g. words containing sl, sn, sm, br, cr, fr, bl, cl, spr, sq, nt.

3. Learning how to speak words with more than one syllable.  Words in Mandarin Chinese have only one syllable.  To make things even harder, Mandarin Chinese speakers also need to know how to use English stress patterns to mark strong and weak syllables in English words, e.g. to pronounce words like “record” differently when used as a noun (“I put the record on the record player”) or a verb (“I want to record the TV show”).

4. Learning English sentence stress patterns to distinguish content words (like nouns and verbs) from function words (like prepositions and articles) and rules of intonation (e.g. to signal statements or yes/no questions).

Speech pathologists are specially trained to teach people how to pronounce sounds and to use correct word and sentence stress patterns.  If you need help with speaking English clearly, get in touch.

Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Facts on Mandarin Phonology retrieved from here.


Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

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