Learning Chinese 101: Word Sounds (BoPoMoFo)

When learning Mandarin Chinese, it’s helpful to start by learning the set of sounds used in the language.  The set of sounds used in Mandarin Chinese is often referred to as BoPoMoFo for the four initial sounds in this standard sequence.  While some of these are very similar or even identical to the sounds we use in English, there are other sound combinations that English does not use.

Here is one helpful video for learning the set of word sounds used in Mandarin Chinese.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this is obviously a video for children — the basic repetition of the sounds and the setting of them to music are very helpful in learning a new language.

Also check out other videos with the BoPoMoFo sequence.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a chart that puts all of these word sounds together into the combinations that are actually used in Mandarin Chinese?  Here is one such chart from Lin Yutang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage: Mandarin Chinese Word Sounds Combination Chart

Note: Don’t worry about memorizing these symbols used in some Mandarin-speaking countries (e.g. Taiwan) to represent the BoPoMoFo sounds:

Screenshot 2015-06-05 at 4.56.36 PM

In the long run, it will be much more useful to memorize the Latin alphabet letters/letter combinations that are used in Mainland China to represent these sounds (a.k.a. HanYu PinYin).

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About JMVarnerBooks

With the days of international travel behind him, J. M. Varner now exercises his language skills in his English classroom and on the page. A second life as an author affords him another way to encourage his students and fans to read, write, and think independently. Borrowing terms from noted media critic Neil Postman, Mr. Varner summarizes his 'Philosophy of Fiction': "Writing a novel is a creative process of World Building and Word Weaving. Authors build worlds in our minds; these can be fantastical worlds or fictionalized variations of our own reality. By writing and rewriting, we weave these worlds into words on the page." Mr. Varner is currently writing the next novel in the "Squirrel Hill High" series, a series launched with the debut novel, "Digital Me". Set in a fictional high school located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at Squirrel Hill High students and teachers live through true-to-life drama in the emotionally charged environment of the American high school.
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One Response to Learning Chinese 101: Word Sounds (BoPoMoFo)

  1. Pingback: Learning Chinese 201: Repetition and Dialogue | J. M. Varner

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