This is part of our Sensible Pinyin Course. To see an overview of the course check out this Sensible Pinyin Course homepage!
Nasal sounds are those pronounced through the nose. There are two types in Chinese – front nasals and back nasals.
The front nasals are formed with the tongue in the front of the mouth in the alveolar position, that is, the tip of the tongue against the bony ridge behind the upper teeth.
We’ll cover the front nasals first – in Chinese they all end in -n.
With all of the nasal sounds first form the final vowel sound (-a, -e, -i, -ue etc.) and then add the nasal ending. It’s similar to adding an English -n. As long as you get the final consonants correct adding the nasal ending should be relatively straightforward.
an : Chinese “a” + n.
An, Ban, Pan, Man, Fan, Dan, Tan, Nan, Lan, Gan, Kan, Han, Zan, Can, San, Zhan, Chan, Shan, Ran
Not like English “an” in man. Instead focus on creating the correct Chinese a and sliding it into a -n ending sound.
en: Chinese “e” + n
En, Ben, Pen, Men, Fen, Nen, Gen, Ken, Hen, Zen, Cen, Sen, Zhen, Chen, Shen, Ren
Start with the Chinese e and slide in one breath into the -n sound. There’s really not much more explanation I can give for this or any of the other nasal compounds! Have a listen and repeat what you hear.
in: “in” as in English bin
Yin, Bin, Pin, Min, Nin, Lin, Jin, Qin, Xin
Start with the Chinese i and slide into n in a single breath.
Spelling “yin” used when there is no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.
ian: “Yann” as in Chinese “y” + “an”
Yan, Bian, Pian, Mian, Dian, Tian, Nian, Lian, Jian, Qian, Xian
Start with Chinese i (“ee”) and slide into a then n in a single breath. Start slow and speed up until the sounds merge together into something approximating “yann”.
The spelling “yan” is used when there is no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.
uan: Pinyin “U” + pinyin “an”
Wan, Duan, Tuan, Nuan, Luan, Guan, Kuan, Huan, Zuan, Cuan, Suan, Zhuan, Chuan, Shuan, Ruan
Similar to -ian but starting with the Chinese u. Start slow (u+a+n) and speed up until it becomes a single uan.
Spelled “wan” when not preceded by a consonant.
üan: Same as -uan but using v instead of u. Pinyin “v” + “an”
Yuan, Juan, Quan, Xuan
Same as -uan but with ü sound replacing the u.
Only exists in syllables juan, quan, xuan, yuan and not written with the umlaut. Practice with these sounds to help distinguish from -uan.
un: “uen”. Pinyin “u” + barely audible pinyin “e” followed by “n”
Wen, Dun, Tun, Lun, Gun, Kun, Hun, Zun, Cun, Sun, Zhun, Chun, Shun, Run
A little more tricky because there’s a very quiet “e” sound in-between the u and n. This means it doesn’t sound like the English “un” in “undone”.
Spelled “wen” when not preceded by a consonant.
ün: As with un but with ü
Yun, Jun, Qun, Xun
Also tricky because of the very quiet “e” sound in-between the ü and n.
Only exists in jun, qun, xun, yun and ü is written u.
Back nasals are sounds through the nose that are formed with the tongue at the back of the mouth. The tip of the tongue should be close to or touching the soft part of the roof of the mouth.
All the back nasals in Chinese add a -ng sound. Remember that the front nasals are -n instead.
ang: Pinyin “a” + back of mouth “ng” sound
Ang, Bang, Pang, Mang, Fang, Dang, Tang, Nang, Lang, Gang, Kang, Hang, Zang, Cang, Sang, Zhang, Chang, Shang, Rang
Much like the “an” sound above but with the back of mouth “ng” rather than “n”. Once you can hear the difference between “ng” and “n” and replicate it the rest of this lesson will be very simple! Take the time to understand how to distinguish and replicate the different nasal noises before moving on.
eng: pinyin “e” + back of mouth “ng” sound
Eng, Beng, Peng, Meng, Feng, Deng, Teng, Neng, Leng, Geng, Keng, Heng, Zeng, Ceng, Seng, Zheng, Cheng, Heng, Reng
Same as “ang” but using Pinyin “e” between the initial and final “ng” sound. Start slow and speed up into one sound.
iang: Pinyin “y” + “ang”
Yang, Niang, Liang, Jiang, Qiang, Xiang
Same as “ang” ending above but with additional “i” to help slide from consonants n, l, j, q and x (those that can be used with ü).
Spelling “yang” used when there is no consonant at the front of the syllable.
ing: Pinyin “y” + “ing” as in the English sing
Ying, Bing, Ping, Ming, Ding, Ting, Ning, Ling, Jing, Qing, Xing
Very similar to “ing” in English, especially that heard in “sing”. Slide from Chinese i to ng sound in one.
Written ying when there is no consonant in the beginning of the syllable.
ong : Pinyin “o” + “ng”
Dong, Tong, Nong, Long, Gong, Kong, Hong, Zong, Cong, Song, Zhong, Chong, Rong
iong: Pinyin “y” + “u” + “ng”
Yong, Jiong, Qiong, Xiong
Similar to the “ong” sound above but with an additional “i” to help slide from the initials J,Q,X (the same initials that go with ü remember?)
The spelling “yong” is used when there’s no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.
uang: Pinyin “ua” + “ng”
Wang, Guang, Kuang, Huang, Zhuang, Chuang, Shuang
Pinyin “ua” + “ng”. Start slowly with ua and slide into ng sound. Speed up until it becomes a single sound.
When not preceded with a consonant written “wang”.
ueng: Pinyin “ue” + “ng”
Bit of a strange one. Only exists in this single combination “weng”. Even then it’s not that common!
Like uang but with ue rather than ua before the ng.