10 Tips for Learning Pinyin
1. Realize that Pinyin is not English. Pinyin looks a lot like English. This makes it approachable and comfortable. You will be tempted to think that you can pronounce pinyin the same way that you would in English. Even if you don’t think so, it will be all to easy to fall into that pattern. This is especially true for pinyin sounds like “shi” and “chi.”
2. Realize that pinyin has its own logic and patterns. You would assume that with pinyin sounds like “zhu” and “ju,” the “u” part would sound the same. Actually, they’re different! The “u” in “zhu” sounds more like the “oo” in “moo,” while the “u” in “ju” sounds more like the letter “u.” You just have to listen very carefully and memorize the patterns.
3. Get some great pinyin learning tools. The internet has a ton of great pinyin tools.
4. Practice Pinyin Alone. Do pinyin practice on your own using the Chinese pinyin table and apps mentioned above. Try to passively identify the correct pinyin, and also try to actively recall the pinyin on your own. This won’t ensure that your pinyin pronunciation is correct, but it will still enable you to make the most of your time with a native.
5. Practice with a Native. It’s not enough to practice on your own. You won’t be able to simply by doing multiple choice questions or even mimicking privately. You need to get live action, and more importantly, specific feedback about all the mistakes you’re making. And you have to get this feedback on a regular, consistent basis. That’s what will ensure that you don’t get any bad habits.
6. Be strict on yourself. When learning with a tutor, make sure that they point out enough mistakes. If you’re a beginner and you don’t have a long list of pinyin sounds to work on after ever tutoring session, then chances are that your tutor is being too lax.
7. Consistent practice. Practicing alone and practicing with a native have to be done on a regular basis. Mastering pinyin is a habit like any other.
8. Targeted Pinyin drills. As you learn, it will become clear that there are some pesky issues which refuse to resolve themselves. It would be good to zero in on these issues with pinyin drills.
9. Don’t let up. It will be discouraging because it won’t seem like you’re making progress. You might come close to thinking that you just don’ t have a knack for pinyin or tones.
10. Stay Humble. After a while, you’ll probably feel very confident about your pinyin and pronunciation. But there will always be more to learn. I recently learned that my pronunciation of “ju” needed some work. Always stay open to feedback so that you can never stop improving.