Mandarin-speaking Children Speech Sound Proficiency Chart
Reference: Zhu Hua & Barbara Dodd (2000). Phonological Acquisition of Putonghua. Journal of Child
Language, 27, 3-42. Compiled by Tao-yuan Li
• The norms in this chart are based on Hua & Dodd's (2000) study (see reference above) on 129
monolingual Putonghua (i.e., Modern Mandarin Chinese) speaking children aged 1;6 through 4;6.
• The norms are meant to use as a reference as to how most Mandarin-speaking children develop
the syllable-initial consonant phonemes1 at the different age levels.
• The red characters in /slashes/ are Pinyin symbols, commonly used to represent Mandarin
Chinese phonemes and to spell Chinese words
• Right above each Pinyin symbol is its corresponding IPA (The International Phonetic Alphabet)
symbol used to phonetically transcribe the sound.
75% of children at the age group shown 90% of children at the age group shown
correctly produced each syllable-initial correctly produced each syllable-initial
consonant sound consonant sound
Age Labial2 Coronal3 Dorsal4 Age Labia Coronal Dorsal
1;6- [m] [t, t, n] [x]5 1;6- [m] [t]
/m/ /d, t, n/ /h/ /m/ /d/
2;1- [p, p] [, t, t] [k, k] 2;1- [n]
/b, p/ /x, j, q/ /, k/ /n/
2;7- [f] 2;7- [p, f] [t, ] [x]
/f/ /b, f/ /t , x/ /h/
3;1- - - - 3;1- [k, k]
3;7- - - - 3;7- [p]
4;1- [ l, s, , / 6] 4;1- [l, s, / , t, t]
/ l, s, sh, r / / l, s, r, j, q /
> [t, t, ts, ts] > [, t, t, ts, ts]
/zh, ch, z , c/ /sh, zh, ch, z, c/
Notes on phonetic symbols and terminology used in the above chart:
1. There are only 2 syllable-final consonants in Mandarin: /n/ and //, which are both nasal consonants.
2. Labial consonants in Mandarin are articulated with either both lips (e.g., bilabial sounds /b, p, m/) or
lower lip and upper teeth (e.g., the labio-dental consonant /f/.)
3. Coronal consonants are articulated with the flexible front part of the tongue, which includes the
tongue tip and tongue blade.
4. Dorsal consonants are articulated with the mid body (or the dorsum) of the tongue. In Mandarin, the
consonants [x] (or the /h/ sound in Pinyin symbol), [k] (i.e. the /k/ in Pinyin) and [k] (i.e. the /g/ in
Pinyin) are articulated with the dorsum contacting with the velum (or soft palate). The phonemes /h,
k, g/ are the 3 velar initial consonants in Mandarin Chinese.
5. The IPA symbol [x] is a velar fricative used to transcribe the Mandarin phoneme /h/, not to be
confused with the Pinyin symbol /x/, which is an alveopalatal fricative and is transcribed as  in
6. The Mandarin /r/ phoneme is often transcribed as  (a voiced retroflex fricative), which by some
linguists is considered as an allophone. A recent study showed that the Mandarin /r/ phoneme is
produced with very little friction, so it's more like a  sound, which is also found in English (the
initial /r/ sound). It should be noted that a lot of Mandarin-speaking adults do not fully retroflex
their /r/ sounds as well as other retroflex sounds. Therefore, different children may pronounce their
retroflexed phonemes differently depending on their home environments.
Mandarin Chinese Initial Phoneme IPA Chart
Reference for the Labio- Alveolo-
Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Velar
Initial Phoneme Of articulation
Ladefoged, Peter; &
Maddieson, Ian. (1996). Plosives
p pʰ t tʰ k kʰ
The sounds of the
Oxford: Blackwell Nasals m n
Fricatives f s ()6 ɕ x
Affricates ʦ ʦʰ t t tɕ tɕʰ