Learn Chinese from scratch!
第一课 - Lesson 1

Chinese Alphabet (phonetic)

A a
N n
B b
O o
C c
P p
D d
Q q
E e
R r
F f
S s
G g
T t
H h
- u
- i
- ü
J j
W w
K k
X x
L l
Y y
M m
Z z

Note: the capital letters for i, u, ü are missing in the table because they are not used at the beginning of words.

The phonetic alphabet was designed to describe sounds and is used as a transcription (pinyin), however, there is no connection between the transcription and Chinese characters. Don't give it too much attention right now and begin the lesson. You will understand all the sounds after 12 lessons. Keep calm and learn Chinese.

Make sure to install the following font(s) in your operation system: Adobe Kaiti Std R (softer, used in books) or SimSun (rougher, but more precise). If both fonts are installed, Kaiti will be used by default.





Nǐ hǎo!




Nǐ hǎo!


перевод текста 你好!

New words

  1. (pronoun) you (sing.)
  2. (adj.) hǎo good, well

Порядок черт 你

Порядок черт 好

How to memorize Chinese characters

Break them down into parts. Not always will the meaning of smaller parts agree with the general meaning of a character, but it will help you memorize more complex characters in the future.

= (man,
when on the left side

(man, full form)
+ (you)

( (small))
To sum up: man/person is you; or, if to break down the second character, you are a small man; or, if to continue the abstraction, you are a small man under the roof (the strokes abovedon't mean the roof but look like it a bit.
Anyway, this is just my interpretation, you may write your version in the comments. The main purpose is to memorize the character.
= (woman) + (child)
To sum up: a woman with a child is good


你好!” — “Hello”, “Hi”, “How are you?” or “Good morning (good afternoon or good evening).”

你好” — is a common greeting addressed to one person only. It may be used in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening. The answer to it from the person addressed is also “你好”.

Pronunciation drills and conversation practice

Initials b р g k h l n
Finals а о i u ао аn


to pull out



1st tone

2nd tone

3rd tone

4th tone

Chinese tones

The configuration of Chinese tones

: 第一声 First tone

: 第二声 Second tone

: 第三声 Third tone

: 第四声 Fourth tone

} nǐhǎo
hāo háo hǎo hào
  1. Sound discrimination

    bō — pō
    pà — bà
    gǔ — kǔ
    kǎ — gǎ

    lǐ — nǐ
    lán — nán
    hǔ — gǔ
    hǎ — kǎ

  2. Tone discrimination (1st tone and 4th tone)

    bō — bò
    pā — pà
    pī — pì
    kān — kàn

    kū — kù
    gāo — gào
    ān — àn

  3. Tone changes

    3rd tone plus another 3rd tone → 2nd tone plus 3rd tone:

    nǐ hǎo → níhǎo

  4. Read out the following sentences

    Nǐ hǎo.
    Bàba, nǐ hǎo.
    Māsha, nǐ hǎo.

Exchanging greetings

  1. Say as much as you can about each of the following pictures:

    Nǐ hǎo
    A: Nǐ hǎo.
    B: .

    Nǐ hǎo
    A: .
    B: Nǐ hǎo.

  2. Two friends greet each other.

    A: Nǐ hǎo!

  3. Greet each other.


Initials and finals

There are more than 400 basic syllables in the common speech of modern Chinese. A syllable in Chinese is usually composed of an initial, which is a consonant that begins the syllable, and a final, which covers the rest of the syllable. In the syllable “ba”, for instance, “b” is an initial and is a final.

The initial of a Chinese syllable is always a consonant. The final is a vowel, which may be a simple vowel (known as a “simple final”, e.g. “a”), a compound vowel (known as a “compound final”, e.g. “ao”) or a vowel followed by a nasal consonant (known as a “nasal final”, e.g. “an”).

In modern Chinese, there are altogether 21 initials and 38 finals. A syllable can stand without an initial, but no syllable will do without a final.

Initials b [р], g [k]

Consonants “b” and “g” are both unaspirated plosives, and they are voiceless consonants, i.e., the vocal cords do not vibrate in pronouncing them.

Initials p [р‘], k [k‘]

Consonants “p” and “k” voiceless plosives, but they are aspirated, i.e., they are followed by a puff of suddenly released breath.

Compound final ao [au]

“ao” is produced by natually moving the tongue from “a” in the direction of “o”. The tongue-position for “a” in “ao” is a little more to the back than that for the simple vowel “a”. “a” is pronounced both longer and louder than “o”,which is pronounced much less distinctly, with the tongue a little higher than in the case of the simple vowel “a”.

Nasal final an [an]

This is an alveolar nasal final, produced by pronouncing “a” first, with the tongue-position a little more to the front than in the case of the simple vowel “a”, then raising the tip of the tongue against the gum and lowering the soft palate at the same time to let the air out through the nasal cavity.


Chinese is a language with different tones that are capable of differentiating meanings. A syllable, when pronounced in a different tone, has a different meaning even if it is composed of the same initial and final. In the Beijing dialect there are four basic tones, represented respectively by the following tone-graphs: “” (the 1st tone), “” (the 2nd tone), “” (the 3rd tone) and “” (the 4th tone).

When a syllable contains a single vowel only, the tone-graph is placed directly above the vowel sound. (The dot over the vowel “i” should be dropped if the tone-graph is placed above it, as in “nǐ”.) When the final of a syllable is composed of two or more vowels (that is, when it is a diphthong or triphthong), the tone-graph should be placed above the main vowel (namely the one pronounced with the mouth widest open), e.g. “hǎo”.

The melody of the first tone is high, level. (5-5). It gives the impression of an unfinished statement. It is important to keep one’s voice even (almost monotone) across the whole syllable when pronouncing the first tone.
The melody of the second tone is short, rapidly rising (3-5) with the maximum of tension at the end of a syllable. In English we sometimes associate this rise in pitch with a question.
The third tone, with its generally low character, has a descending-ascending form (2-1-4) with the maximum muscle tension on the low part. When pronounced clearly, its tonal “dipping” is very distinctive. It gives the impression of a perplexed question.
The fourth tone is short, rapidly descending from the highest point to the lowest. (5-1) with a sharp weakening of tension towards the end of the syllable. English-speakers often associate this tone with an angry command.

Tone changes

A 3rd tone, when immediately followed by another 3rd tone, should be pronounced in the 2nd tone, but with the tone-graph “” remaining unchanged. «nǐ hǎo», for example, becomes «níhǎo» in actual pronunciation.

Table of stroke-order of Chinese characters

1. Stroke order nǐ 你 7
2. Stroke order hǎo 好 6

Phonetic dictation

Listen to the following one-syllable words. Write them in transcription pinyin. Lay tone marks:

安;高;破;皮;脑;比;波;故;干;拿; 篮;哈;考;包;跑;哭;南;路;办。


Do you know?

The Chinese Language

What is usually referred to as Chinese is in fact the language of China’s largest nationality, the Hans (hànzú, 汉族 i.e. the Chinese, made up 94% of the population of China. One of the names for the Chinese language is derived from the name of the ethnos — Hànyǔ, 汉语 (lit., “han language”). It is the main language spoken in China and one of the world's major languages, ranking among the official as well as working languages at the United Nations and other international organs.

The Chinese language is one of the oldest languages in the world, its earliest written records going as far back as more than 3,000 years ago. During this long period of time, Chinese has seen constant development, but its grammar, vocabulary and writing system have in the main retained their basic features.

Modern Standard Chinese language, usually called putonghua (pǔtōnghuà,普通话, lit., «common language») — actively developing normative Chinese language. It is based on the Beijing dialect, which is of the Northern, or Mandarin, type. Putonghua has spread smoothly throughout all spheres of life in China.

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