Mainland Mandarin vs. Taiwanese Mandarin: Pronunciation Differences

In Pronunciation by Angel Huang

The Mandarin of Mainland China and that of Taiwan are fundamentally very similar.

That said, there are several differences related to vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.

For now, let’s focus on the third area.

Pronunciation differences between Mainland Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin

1. Words with Tonal Differences

There’s a number of words that officially have different tones. Check out the video below to see what I mean!

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The Words From the Video 

Mainland Mandarin Chinese

Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese

星期 xīng qī week

星期 xīng qí week

炸鸡 zhá jī fried chicken

炸雞 zhà jī fried chicken

微波炉 wēi bō lú microwave

微波爐 wéi bō lú microwave

期待 qī dài to look forward to

期待 qí dài to look forward to

阿姨 ā yí aunt / housekeeper

阿姨 ǎ yí aunt / housekeeper

相亲 xiāng qīn blind date

相親 xiàng qīn blind date

亚洲 yà zhōu Asia

亞洲 yǎ zhōu Asia

质量 zhì liàng quality

質量 zhí liàng quality

危险 wēi xiǎn dangerous

危險  wéi xiǎn dangerous

俄罗斯 é luō sī Russia

俄羅斯 è luō sī Russia

法国 fǎ guó France

法國 fà guó France

成绩 chéng jì achievement / grades

成績 chéng jī achievement / grades

攻击 gōng jī to attack

攻擊 gōng jí to attack

冲击 chōng jī to batter / impact

沖擊 chōng jí to batter / impact

2. The Neutral Tone

The neutral tone, which is common in Mainland Mandarin, rarely appears in Taiwanese Mandarin.

The words in the table below show how the tone on the second syllable becomes neutral in Mainland Mandarin, but not in Taiwanese Mandarin.

Mainland Mandarin Chinese

Neutral tone on final syllables

Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese

No neutral tone (syllables retain original tone)

漂亮 piào liang beautiful

漂亮 piào liàng beautiful

东西 dōng xi thing/ stuff

東西 dōng xī thing/ stuff

意思 yì si meaning

意思 yì sī meaning

先生 xiān sheng Mr.

先生 xiān shēng Mr.

学生 xué sheng student

學生 xué shēng student

喜欢 xǐ huan blind date

喜歡 xǐ huān to like

3. Sound Changes

In an earlier video we saw that some sounds in standard Mainland Mandarin are pronounced differently by many Taiwanese Mandarin speakers. For example, zh/ch/sh sound like z/c/s.

Challenge: Listen to the two audio clips below. In which clip do you hear the sounds zh, ch, sh change to z, c, s?

 wǒ yào chī shí kuài qiǎo kè lì, hái yào hē shí bēi guǒ zhī 我要吃十块巧克力,还要喝十杯果汁。I want to eat ten bars of chocolate and drink ten glasses of juice.

 wǒ yào cī sí kuài qiǎo kè lì, hái yào hē sí bēi guǒ zī 我要吃十块巧克力,还要喝十杯果汁。I want to eat ten bars of chocolate and drink ten glasses of juice.

(Correct answer: The sound changes appear in clip #2)

4. “Erhua” (儿化)

Another key difference is the use of "Erhua".

This is a feature of Mainland Mandarin that’s largely absent from Taiwanese Mandarin.

To illustrate the “erhua difference”, let’s use the word 好玩 (fun).

Pronunciation of the word 好玩 (fun)

With Erhua:


Without Erhua :


There’s a general perception that the Mandarin you hear in Taiwan (and southern mainland China) sounds softer than that spoken in northern China. The fact that northerners use a lot more “Erhua” is a big part of the explanation for that perception.

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