How to pronounce Chinese names: Qinglan, Xiaolan

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China

Yesterday’s post had to do with Chinese baby names, and Chinese New Year is coming up this weekend, so I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about how to pronounce Chinese names.

If you’re totally unfamiliar with Chinese names, here are the two biggest tips I can give you:

  • In Chinese, the letter Q sounds a lot like “ch.”
  • In Chinese, the letter X sounds a lot like “sh.”

Of course those aren’t the exact sounds — the Chinese Q and X don’t have equivalent sounds in English — but “ch” and “sh” are close. Wikipedia’s explanation, on the pinyin page, is a bit better:

  • Q is like the sound in the middle of “punch yourself.”
  • X is like the sound in the middle of “push yourself.”

To hear the exact sounds of Q and X, listen to a few of the audio files at the Mandarin Chinese Phonetics Table.

Now let’s try some names.

One of yesterday’s names was the female name Qinglan. Because Q sounds like “ch,” the pronunciation is similar to ching lan. (The a-sound in the second syllable is like the a-sound in “father.”)

None of yesterday’s names had a X, so let’s use Xiaolan. (This happens to be the Chinese name of Elaine Chao, 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor.) The X sounds like “sh” or “shy,” so the pronunciation is shyau lan.

Here are a few more Chinese names featuring the letters Q and X. The pinyin transcriptions are followed by my own approximate phonetic pronunciations, in italics. (If you’re a Mandarin speaker and can suggest more accurate pronunciations, I’d appreciate it!)

Qiaoping, chyau ping
Qinghua, ching hwa
Weiqiong, way chyong
Xiaoping, shyau ping
Xinghua, shing hwa
Weixiong, way shyong

What other Chinese names do you have a hard time pronouncing?

Image: Adapted from China by M M under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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