Pinyin Lesson 7. Initials: zh ch sh r

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Chinese Pinyin Initials: zh ch sh r

This Pinyin video lesson covers our last group of Chinese Pinyin Initials zh ch sh r. They are probably the most difficult group for non-native speakers. But don’t worry, we’ll provide effective tips and practice drills on how to pronounce Pinyin consonants zh ch sh r. And also don’t forget to finish the 2 listening quizzes to test your skills!



  • Chinese Pinyin Initials
    • zh
    • ch
    • sh
    • r


Chinese Pinyin Initials: zh ch sh r

Initials zh ch sh r are called “Curled Tongue Initials”, in English “Retroflexes”. This means to pronounce them you need to curl your tongue backwards. They are usually compared against another group of Initials: z c s, which are called “Flat Tongue Initials”.









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safanah abbasPremium Student December 5, 2023 at 1:52 pm


the sounds of “zh” and “r” are very confusing still. I cannot tell the difference between them.

abumajedPremium Student August 27, 2023 at 7:28 am


lill_m8Premium Student August 9, 2023 at 11:05 am

I don’t think I get the sound that the addition of -i at the end of a syllable makes. Any help? Is the generall “rule” that the tounge sort of relaxes?

Arizona CowboyPremium Student May 29, 2023 at 7:07 pm

These sounds are like weight lifting exercises for your tongue. After the third time through the video I was able to reproduce the right sound. I appreciate the very specific instructions you gave on each sound. We all need this type of phonetics training. Excellent video!

MiyaPremium Student August 9, 2022 at 7:46 pm

I can hear the “r” sound, but I can’t pronounce it correctly. Do you have any tips?

lill_m8Premium Student August 9, 2023 at 11:07 am

Try saying “jamming” and note the j sound while not letting any air behind your tounge. That’s the sound

_guswl_Premium Student July 12, 2022 at 10:53 pm

excuse me, where is the w and y

Timothy DentonPremium Student January 10, 2022 at 10:52 pm

The tip that it sounds like you have something in your mouth, you do, your tongue, helped me. I could hear that, and I felt like I was doing something wrong. But it’s actually the logical and neccessary result of pronouncing it with your tongue up there.

Hello, first of all thanks so much for these great videos!
I have a question on how to differentiate between “q” and “ch”. They sound pretty much identical to me.
Also the finals “e” and “i” in this and the previous lesson seem basically the same to my ears. Any help?

Rebecca LiaoPremium Student April 18, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Your videos are good!

MiyaPremium Student August 27, 2020 at 9:10 pm

I am really struggling with the ri and zhi sound ! I really can’t hear the difference.

XiaosquiddyPremium Student April 17, 2020 at 12:50 pm

I have a question about how to differentiate between xi and sh. Even though they’re not related to this lesson, i have found that they almost sound the same when spoken.

JarjiPremium Student June 17, 2020 at 1:40 pm

I wonder about the same, can we have some more insight?

MiyaPremium Student August 27, 2020 at 9:13 pm

I dont know if it helps but xi makes the she sound and shi makes a “shir”sound.

BECK WINTSCHPremium Student October 11, 2020 at 10:03 am

After listening to a lot different content I have to say xi is almost combination of like saying see and she. Some native speakers pronounce almost more just like ‘see’ like in Xi’an. Shi always sounds like ‘shir’. I made the mistakes of pronouncing just ‘Shi’ in the beginning. That’s why learning the tongue positions and viewing them as distinct sounds instead of putting our native language perceptions on them is so important.

KumarPremium Student October 24, 2020 at 7:15 am

Laoshi Lili, could you please kindly help with this? I have the same issue, and I know lots of English speakers face the same problem. What’s the key difference btw sh and x? Thanks!

StephanPremium Student January 3, 2020 at 8:28 pm

now I am getting confused when I head zh and r it sounds very similar especially when holding both sounds

carlosPremium Student November 7, 2019 at 9:07 pm

This one was pretty different and complex than the other ones, pretty interesting

mtrpop3Premium Student December 23, 2017 at 9:48 am

The explanation of “r” as simply a voiced “sh” is so very right and meaningful. I have been struggling with this consonant for some time checking various sites for explanations and recordings, and finally you made it completely clear for me!!!

Thank you for the comment! We’re really glad the tips have worked!

DGallerPremium Student May 19, 2019 at 8:47 am

Same with me, I could not understand how to make the r sound until today, thanks for great explanation

AustinPremium Student December 15, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The ‘r’ is by far the hardest sound I think. It’s the only one I struggle with. I’ve heard in other places that it helps to pronounce it like the French “j” (e.g., déjà vu) but that still doesn’t sound quite like a native speaker.

MiyaPremium Student August 27, 2020 at 9:15 pm

I also struggle with the ‘r’ sound. I get zh and r confused . I know ‘r’ suppose to sound like ure its kind of complicated.

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