If you follow international news and politics, you may be aware that a man called Xi Jinping is very likely to become the next premier of the People’s Republic of China. This job is also known as President of China, and seeing as about one fifth of the world’ population is Chinese, it’s quite a powerful and important position.
If you haven’t studied any Mandarin Chinese, though, you probably don’t know how to pronounce the name ‘Xi Jinping’. Don’t worry – even major media outlets are having trouble with this one!
This name is written in a romanization system. A romanization system allows you to write words from languages that don’t use our alphabet. The romanization system for Mandarin Chinese is called “pinyin”. Literally this means “sound spelling”.
So the Chinese characters for this name can be written in pinyin as Xi Jinping. Let’s look at the given name first. Remember that Chinese names are written with the surname first and the given name second, so the given name here is Jinping. If you have a guess at how to pronounce this, you should be pretty close. The first part sounds very similar to ‘gin’, the alcoholic drink. The second part is ‘ping’ as you would guess, as if it was describing the sound of a microwave oven when it has finished cooking!
The surname, Xi, is probably the most difficult part for most people. How do you pronounce that ‘x’? The easiest way to explain it in English is that it’s simply a ‘sh’ sound, as in ‘sheet’ or ‘shine’. This isn’t completely the same – the ‘x’ sound in Mandarin Chinese is actually a little different to the English ‘sh’ sound – but it’s very close and easy to prounounce. The ‘i’ is pronounced as a long ‘ee’ sound, like in ‘bee’ or ‘tea’.
If you want to really impress any Chinese people you meet, though, you can learn how to get this ‘x’ sound exactly right! The difference is where you put the tip of your tongue when you say the word. When you pronounce the English ‘sh’ sound, you’ll find that your tongue goes up towards the top of your mouth. To pronounce the ‘x’ sound in Mandarin Chinese, you should put the tip of your tongue just behind your lower front teeth. Try it now – put your tongue there and try to make a ‘sh’ sound. It’ll feel a little strange, but that’s the way you pronounce it.
Once you’ve got these sounds together, you can pronounce Xi Jinpin correctly!