common newbie errors in Pinyin: YAN

Today’s post is something for those who are relatively new to Pinyin and Mandarin. It covers something I’ve received more than one query about.

Hanyu Pinyin is quite simple. But it still has a few points — beyond the usual caveats about x, q, c, and zh — that sometimes trip up introductory students of Mandarin. One of the most common of these is the syllable yan.

Lots of Mandarin learners tend to pronounce this as if it were yang — but with an n on the end instead of an ng. But it’s properly pronounced much like the English pronunciation of the name of the Japanese currency: yen. Thus, yen for yan is a common misspelling.

Yet yan is a perfectly regular spelling within the Pinyin system. What’s more: Pinyin doesn’t have anything spelled yen.

Remember that when an i comes at the beginning of a syllable, it is written y (or yi, if there is no vowel immediately following). Thus,

yan = ian

I stress this because relatively few people get any of the following related syllables wrong:

  • bian (as in former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian)
  • pian (as in pianyi / cheap)
  • mian (as in chaomian / fried noodles)
  • dian (as in dianhua / telephone)
  • tian (as in tianqi / weather)
  • nian (as in nian / year)
  • lian (as in buyao lian / shameless)
  • jian (as in zaijian / good-bye)
  • qian (as in qian / money)
  • xian (as in xiansheng / mister)

Now try reading these:

  • yanjing / eye
  • yanjing / glasses
  • chouyan / smoke (verb)
  • yuyan / language
  • yanse / color
  • keyan / scientific research
  • It’s easy!

    further reading:
    combinations of initials and finals in Hanyu Pinyin/span