The “Shhhhh” Is Super Thick
The “sh-“ in Chinese naturally sounds much thicker than in English, because it is a “retroflex” pronunciation of Mandarin. That’s a complicated way of saying that you need to take your tongue and curl it back against the roof of your mouth. Some languages do this, but English does not. It takes deliberate practice to master.
When your tongue is in the correct place, it creates a wind tunnel effect within your mouth cavity, hence the “thicker” nature of the sound. Regarding the vocalized aspect of this syllable, its much like trying to say “shrrrrrr.” You do NOT need to move your lips whatsoever. Once you set your mouth in the right position, hold that position throughout the entire articulation of the syllable.
How To Say Shi, The 3rd Most Common Chinese Character
It’s More About “Sh” Than “Shi”
A very easy trap to fall into when practicing pronunciation is to think that the retroflex tongue position only applies to the four individual syllables zhi, chi, shi, ri, but its actually applicable to any pronunciation that starts with zh, ch, sh or r. Regardless of what comes after any of these four initials, your tongue should still be curled back.
Kill The Snake In Your Book!
Now, combine that knowledge with a few simple finals to learn the common words 杀 shā – to kill, 书 shū – book & 蛇 shé – snake. The principles of how to pronounces simple finals “A, U & E” respectively are the same. The tongue position and articulation of the “sh-“ is the only thing that you add on top.
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