Pinyin is a very useful tool to learn to get around China. The Chinese view their characters as the true Chinese written language, but Pinyin can be seen on many maps, road signs, and other notices. Pinyin is much easier to learn, use and remember than characters, particularly if tones are ignored. Pinyin can be thoroughly learned in a few hours, but a working knowledge of Chinese characters takes months, if not years of hard study.
All Chinese words have a tone of some sort. The Chinese language has four pronounced tones, which in pinyin are marked with a little symbol above the vowel to which they relate, and a short, less pronounced tone, called the ‘light tone’, which is given no tonal marker. The tones could also be given alternative names according to what they sound like in English. It would seem from these names that one can’t convey meaning by one’s tone of voice in Chinese, as it is tied to standard pronunciation. However, this is not the case.
Often spoken Chinese is so fast that it is difficult to pick out individual tones. Overemphasizing or mispronouncing tones as a beginner can sound quite hideous. Including tones (though vital to true pinyin) makes writing or typing Chinese a more tedious process. Chinese words, when adopted into other languages, are relieved of their tones. For these reasons, in this pronunciation guide, and the majority of this website, we ignore tones when writing pinyin.