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Words starting with c,p,t initials

Hi @YuQinCai, @Constance_Fang Fiona and the ChinesePod team, my question is this:
Does words starting with c, p, t initials have h (h like in hand or pinyin h) sound in them? I am newbie and every time I’m listening to these words in pinyin chart I’m hearing letter h.
example words:
c(h)ai, c(h)en, c(h)ui
p(h)en, p(h)ei, p(h)iao
t(h)a, t(h)an, t(h)u

I’m no expert, so hopefully someone else will be able to back me up. But I think it’s more helpful to try not to think about the english letter sounds of the sound you’re making. For example, with Ta, it sounds to me like you’re talking about the small burst of air that comes between the “t” sound, and the ‘a’ vowel (which is when the vocal chords start moving)

In english, if we say “ta”, you might notice a small burst of air between the ‘t’ and ‘a’ sound as well. This isn’t just chinese. You may be hearing this as a ‘h’ sound. I think this also applies to your other examples.

Don’t forget, chinese people aren’t thinking of their language in terms of how it relates to english. And Pinyin was designed by chinese people, for chinese people. For me i found it more helpful to mentally map the written pinyin to the particular sounds in my head, rather than trying to read pinyin as english.

You should definitely watch the “Say It Right” series on this site, it’s incredibly helpful, not just with tones but all aspects of pronunciation.

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Thanks for anwser, and I know that pinyin is not related with english. English isn’t even my first language. I also already watched say it right series and I didn’t find any solution for my problem. But when I am listening to these initials I just hear h after them… maybe because of my native langauge I can hear there something more or I hear it somehow different. For example I don’t have any problems with zi, ci, si, zhi, chi, shi or j, q, x, r sounds coz they already exist in my langauge and I heard that english speakers might have problems with them.

p and t sound in Chinese is exactly how p and t sound in English.
(no extra h but aspirated just like in English)
c in Chinese is like cats in English.
(no extra h but aspirated just like in English)

So I think you don’t have problem pronouncing the c, p, t themselves. You are just not used to the combinations and the tones with it.There’s never any other vowel you need to add right after the “ts” in one exhale in English so you might feel weird about it.
How about you try to say my family name “tsai” as if you don’t know any Chinese do you feel h in there?

And you are not used to say “ta” before continuing with with other consonants like “target.” While in Chinese if you say ta1 in first tone you actually keep the ta sound for a bit longer to create the first tone and that might what sounds like a h for you?

What do you think?

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Maybe I forgot to add it, but this h is really light. When I send my recordings to native speakers, they didn’t hear any difference at all, but firstly they also said that there is no h after c,p,t in pinyin. I even found a person from my country who speak fluently chinese(lives in china, and he is making hsk 6 right now), and he said that he can hear there a light h but not always, and he also said that there is h in k and ch.
About your family name I don’t know if you wrote it for me to read in chinese or english. So in english i have no problems to add a light h there. But in chinese I can’t, it would be too unnatural.
So I don’t know what to think about it. Maybe like you said the reason for that is that I’m still not used to combinations and tones(I was learning pinyin for 2 months, now started with some characters) . Or maybe coz my nationality I can hear something more there, I would stay with that theory. Btw I’m polish.

*when I send these recordings to native speakers, one version was without h and second with it

Hey, I did some looking and it sounds like Polish has very weakly aspirated “p” and “t” sounds, ie not much air is released. My guess is that what you are hearing as an “h” is just the greater aspiration in Chinese

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Thank you very much for your effort Colin. I also did some research and I was thinking about it, and your hypothesis is very likely. I also found this None pinyin H in Cai4 菜 , someone has same problem with cai and teacher Fredric gives tip to think that there is h after aspirated consonants. So you can release more air like you said :slight_smile:. But in my case only thinking about h is not enough, instead I need to say light h. And this released air from native speakers also sounds for me like light h :slight_smile:.

It’s probably a very common difficulty because I think Romance languages also generally don’t aspirate ‘p’ or ‘t’.

I’m not sure if I give any helpful advice since we do aspirate them in English. Just be aware of how these kinds of sounds (stops) are made. You block the air, and then release it suddenly. To make it aspirated, you should let more air build up, and then push out even more air as you release the built-up air (sort of like saying an “h” at the same time you’re saying the ‘p’). Now I finally understand why the IPA is pʰ .

Learning to pronouce new sounds is always awkward and slow at first, but after a couple of months it will start to feel natural, and you won’t have to think about it every time. So don’t get discouraged. Good luck!