Pīnyīn is the transliteration of Chinese into the Roman alphabet.
Though now treated as supreme, there have been other systems: yao (developed in the 1960s), wei gao (from Taiwan). Pīnyīn was developed in mainland China. Shown below is Hànyǔ pīnyīn (for Standard Mandarin) which is accepted for other dialects as well.
Chinese syllables contain an consonant (usually); a vowel (always); and a tone (always).
There is an initial: consonant or semi-vowel (w or y). And a final: vowels nasal vowels (containing n or ng).
Eleven basic consonants
A very hard d like in stir.
G gA very hard g like in skirt.
The h stretches the throat more than in English.
Sibilant consonants are produced by forcing air through the front of the teeth
Note that this is pronounced very different than English 'c'.
closest cognate is beige
Like the z sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
closest cognate is choke or catch
Like the c sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
closest cognate is shogun
Like the s sound, but with the tongue rolled back.
Pronounced like one is smiling, almost like a cross between an y and an r. Not rounded like in English road, rule or rate, but more like in grrr or brrr (without any rolling).
Six basic vowels
As an it sounds like wand.
The pronunciation varies depending on the preceding consonant. When preceded by b, p, m, t or w (as in bo, po, mo, to, wo) it sounds like war, born (bo, po, mo, to, wo). When preceded by any other consonant it sounds like an English o.
As en it sounds like wonder.
Like eagle, beetle
A deep u not found in English; try saying eeee then rounding your lips.
Unexpectedly, this is like weigh (as opposed to wee).
Sounds like yen.
Unexpectedly, sounds like when.
like yang; rhymes with kangaroo.
A a, E e and O o are the stronger vowels; I i, U u and Ü ü are the weaker vowels. The tone is written over the stronger vowel; in the case of two adjacent strong vowels, the tone is written over the first.
If z, c, s, zh, ch, sh or r are followed by an i, then the i is silent. It is merely a placeholder since it is against convention for a syllable to be written without a vowel.
If a syllable consists entirely of a y followed by a vowel, the y is silent. It is merely a placeholder since it is against convention for a syllable to be written without a consonant.
J, q and x are never followed by u. If a syllable is written with a ju, qu or xu then it is inferred to respectively be jü, qü or xü.
If one syllable within a word ends in a vowel, and the next syllable in that word begins with a vowel, then an apostrophe is inserted between the syllables as a clarification.