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Problems with pinyin for french people

I find this course very well done. There are few like this one which goes so nicely in the details.

And as everybody knows the devil :imp: is in the details.

The problem with pinyin is that it was primarily designed by chinese for chinese people. And if we read pinyin as if it were english we make a lot of errors. Professor Xu explains very well how english people would naturally speak and what kind of mistakes they can do.

The only slight problem I have is that I am french and not english and we have differents problems with pinyin. The ü and l sounds are very common in french and is not a problem for french people speaking chinese. On the other hand the y and w are less common in french and for us their use in pinyin is unclear.

Firstly I explains how we pronounce these two letters in french :

The w has two pronounciations in some cases it is pronounced like a v for instance wagon (carriage) the wa is pronounced exactly the same as the va de vague (wave) and in some other cases it is pronounced ou, watt has exactly the same pronounciation as ouate (cotton).

The y is pronounced i the ry of rythme (rhythm) is the same as the ri of rime (rhyme). yi is also pronounced the i, yi of yiddish is the same as the i of idée (idea).

So when Xu loashi says do not miss to add the y before i I feel hen ganga because in french yi and i is exactly the same.

The w is also unclear for me. I would pronounce 5 wu as who in english. But when I hear chinese speakers say Wuhan it sounds to me like ou, not exactly the same as 5.


First I would say that you would probably do just fine if you pronounce wu like the french ou and yi like i. There is a difference, but it is very small and cannot always be heard. The w sound and the y sound exist in french (e.g in words like watt and yaourt) even if you might not think of them as different from “ou” and “i”. It might help you to read the following article about sounds in french to help you :
See especially the part about glides and diphtongs and the example about loi and loua earlier in the article. Note that in the International Phonetic Alphabet the w sound in pinyin and english is indeed written as /w/, but the pinyin y sound is written /j/.

The y and w in this case represents sounds that can only be in the beginning of a syllable, or at least they are only written this way if they are in the beginning of a syllable. What separates them from the vowel counterparts u and i is that you restrict the airflow in the beginning of the sound. For example when saying yi you need to put your mouth in the position you would when saying i, but you raise your tongue very slightly towards your soft palate so the opening for the air to get out is very small, almost completely closed. If you do this while saying i, and then when you release your tongue back to the position of saying i, you should be making the yi sound. Try moving your tongue back and forth while saying i all the time. It should almost like you are interupting the i sound, but you do not stop your voice. Keep in mind that the movements are very small.

The principle for making the wu sound is similar. You need to hold your lips in the u (french ou) position and then close your lips more together so they are almost completely closed. If you do this while saying “ou” and then move them back to saying “ou” you should be saying wu.

Now i don’t know if this helped, but it was an attempt atleast. Try finding som sound clips to where they use these sounds and listen to them.


ROTFL :laughing::laughing::laughing:


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