Hokkien sounds


There are far fewer syllables in the Hokkien language than English. The syllables are also easily described with the concepts of initials and finals. A syllable begins with a single consonant. This is called the initial. The rest of the syllable is called the final. A final can have a single vowel or a diphthong (two vowels that glide from one to the other) and an optional final consonant (ptkhmn, or ng). Additionally, finals in Hokkien can be nasalized.

The pronunciation guide below is based on American English except where otherwise noted. Not all sounds can be described with English words and some are just approximations at best. Be sure to listen to actual speakers to ensure that your pronunciation is correct.


bb in “ball”b
pp as in “spat”p
php as in “pat”
mm as in “mom”m
tt in “stop”t
tht as in “top”
nn as in “not”n
ll as in “lap”l
gg in “good”g
kk as in “skit”k
khk as in “kite”
ngng as in “singer”ŋ
hh as in “hot”h
jBlend of the ds in “beds” and the j in “jam”dz
tsts in “catsts
tshBlend of the ts in “cats” and the ch in “church”tsʰ
ss as in “sun”s

Tips on initials

  • The consonant j has merged with l in many speakers, especially in Chuan-chiu, since the early 20th century. It is still frequently written out in the romanization scheme though.
  • The triplets gkkh and bpph, as well as jchchh (voiced unaspirated, unvoiced unaspirated, unvoiced aspirated) are rare among languages and need some practice to correctly distiguish.
  • When followed by i, i.e. jichichhi, si, the consonants jchchhs, take on the IPA values: [dʑ], [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [ɕ]. No true equivalents in English exist, but [tɕ], [tɕʰ] correspond to Mandarin jq.
  • b and g are slightly nasalized, reflecting their development from Old/Middle Chinese m and ng


aa as in “spaa
apop as in “topap
atot as in “potat̚
akock as in “sockak̚
ahFirst a as in “aha
anna as in “spaã
amam as in “Vietnamam
anon as in “conan
angong as in “tongs”
aiigh as in “sighai
ee as in “bet”
eiay as in “say
emem as in “temple”
engang as in “angry”
ekeck as in “peck
iee as in “tee
iuew as in “few
imeem as in “seem
ineen as in “seen
inging as in “sing
ipeep as in “sleep
iteet as in “meet
ikick as in “sick
oor as in “or” (British English)
oioy as in “boy
ouo as in “no
onon as in “con” (British English)
ongong as in “song
otot as in “hot” (British English)
okock as in “sock
uoo as in “too
uiooey as in “gooey
unoon as in “soon
ungcombination of ou and ng
utoot as in “boot
ukook as in “took
euer as in “her” (British English, with rounded lips)
eungcombination of eu and ng
eukork as in “work” (British English)
euieui as in “deuil” (French)
eunine as in “engine
eutut as in “put
yuu as in “tu” (French)
yunun as in “union
yutUt as in “Utah”
mmm as in “hmm
ngng as in “sing

Tips on finals

  • The final consonants pt, and k are unreleased. This means that they are virtually silent and you hear no “puff of air” at the end of the syllable. To give a concrete example, say the word “cup” and do not open your lips at the end of the word. Note how there is no “puff of air” at the end. The k sound will also shift from being what is termed a velar stop to a glottal stop when it is used to add liveliness to final modal particles. The final consonant k will sometimes disappear in rapid speech as in the expression m4 sai2 haa[k]3 hei3.
  • The aa sounds are a low back vowel which is slightly longer in length and different in quality from the a sounds. Be sure to note the difference in these sounds since confusing the two will change the meaning of words.
  • The vowel quality in ingit, and ik is not the same as in in,im, or i. It’s the same difference between the English words “sin” and “seen” (or in grammar school terms a “short” vowel versus a “long” vowel). While this difference is not as important as the one above since it does not contrast word meanings, you will have a much more obvious “foreign accent” if you do not master these two sounds.
  • The yu sound does not exist in English but it is not hard to produce. Start by saying a long i as in “see” and–without changing anything else!–round your lips. It’s a common sound in French so “think French” if you have to.
  • The eu sound does not exist in English either but like the yu it’s just a case of rounding the lips. Start by saying the e sound in “bet” and–without changing anything else!–round your lips.
  • The eui sound is simply a fusion of eu and i (“eu-ee”) into a single syllable.
  • The o sound does not exist in American English, but it is in British English. It is the back rounded vowel that you hear when British people say “more” or “scorn”. If you listen carefully to a British speaker, you’ll notice they do not pronounce the “r” in these words. It is the quality of the “o” vowel that makes them unique to American speakers’ ears.
  • The final eung has a faint, British r sound riding on the vowel, so the number two would be pronounced somewhat like “leurng”. Be careful — pronouncing this sound with an American r is a common mistake that sounds extremely foreign.
  • Only the finals m and ng can be used as standalone nasal syllables.
  • Vowels preceding nasal final consonants are not nasalized, yet vowels following nasal consonants are. You can hold your nose while pronouncing some syllables such as sin1 or ngo5 to test your pronunciation. It’s not critical to get this right, but doing so will reduce any apparent foreign accent.