How can Chinese words be expressed in English letters?

March 19, 2010 | Posted by Chris

The dominant system of Romanizing Chinese words is called pinyin. Pinyin expresses Chinese words with English letters according to its established phonetic system. Tones are expressed with markers over the stressed vowel.

How to express Chinese words in western letters has long been a question in the minds of Western scholars. The first Jesuits in China in the 16th century, for example, wrestled with the first system of Romanization. Since then there have been different systems, notably Wade-Giles, which was widely used from the 1890s to 1980s. Pinyin was created by mainland China in the 1980s and has since replaced Wade-Giles as the international norm for Romanizing Chinese characters.

Pinyin is fairly easy and intuitive to learn, and because of this, students around the world use it to learn Chinese, and Chinese students in China also use pinyin as a stepping stone to learning English.

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