1. There are 6 vowels in Chinese: a, o, e, iu, ui
  2. A and e always take the tone mark.
  3. If the first vowel of the pinyin is “i”, “u”, or “ü”, tone mark goes on the vowels (“a”, “e”, or “o”) after them.
  4. If the first vowel is not “i”, “u”, or “ü”, the tone mark is placed on the vowel before them.
  5. When initials “j q x y” meet “ü”, the two dots above “ü” are omitted.

Remember how you began learning the seemingly-friendly alphabets a.k.a. hanyu pinyin? Neither do we.

We’ve long stashed the learning process in the back of our mind, assuming that’s how hanyu pinyin is supposed to be. Time flies, and then it hits you: it’s time your little tyke learns hanyu pinyin.

Hanyu pinyin, a representative of the modern Chinese language, means learning the language beyond colloquialism. It’s grasping the intricacies within. But the struggle is real when learning a language, for some.

Although genes could explain why some acquire language skills like they were born to do it, while the others do their best to put up a fight. But, sometimes it’s not just about the genes. Losing unexpected marks in Chinese papers, boring syllabus, inaccurate expectations, etc. are some of the reasons why kids in Singapore struggle to learn Chinese.

That, accompanied with a deep-rooted fear of failure, put students on the brink of giving up hanyu pinyin. There will be no exams for P1, however Hanyu pinyin is still important for the mini quizzes that they’ll be taking.

Truth is, there’s no way to dodge the supposedly obnoxious process of learning hanyu pinyin. Instead of praying that it goes away, we’re going to shed light on some of the problems faced and its corresponding solution you may, or may not, have thought of.

Common problems faced when learning hanyu pinyin

Problem #1

Messing up placement of tone marks

Tone marks, also known as diacritics, is placed atop vowels in pinyin to change its tone.

So what’re the vowels? In English, there are 5 vowels: a, e, i, o, u. In Chinese, there are 6 of them: a, o, e, i, u, ü.

The threshold for tonal differences in Chinese is quite low. A slight variation has the power to modify the entire meaning of a sentence.

Let’s make things simple with an example:

Nĭ chī le ma 你吃了

Nĭ chī le 你吃了

There are a few rules to heed about which vowel to rest the tone mark on, but let’s first move on to the first tip of the day.

Tip #1

Treat a, o, e, i, u, ü like a mantra

The order of these vowels determines which letter gets the tone mark. So namely, “a” would always take the tone mark in the pinyin.

Here’s an example:


The vowel “a” comes alphabetically first in the mantra, so the tone mark goes on top.

Here’s another one:


Tone mark on “i” right?

And what about this:


If you said to place it on top of “i”, gotcha! It should be on top of “u”.

This is one of the rare rule of hanyu pinyin, where the tone mark should be on top of “u” when the pinyin finals consist of “iu”. Speaking of which…

Problem #2

Confused about tone marks placement on “iu

Alright, let’s use a, o, e, i, u, ü as a guideline.

iu” is a peculiar exception in hanyu pinyin.

Alphabetically, “i” is before “u”. But during this combination, the “u” gets the mark even though it’s after “i”.

That’s baffling!

Here’s how to make it less so:

Tip #2

Prioritise i, u, or ü

Prioritising these three doesn’t mean that they take the tone marks all the time. “a” or “e” will always trump all other vowels and take the tone mark.

We mean to keep the following principles in mind since it’s more complicating:

If the first vowel of the pinyin is “i”, “u”, or “ü”, tone mark does not go on top of them, but the “a”, “e”, or “o” that’s after them.

For example:


If the first vowel is not “i”, “u”, or “ü”, the tone mark is placed on the vowel before them.

For instance:





It may be a lot to digest for now, but go through it a few more times, and you’ll be so thankful for this!

Problem #3

Not remembering the tones

ā á ǎ à

There are only 4 tones (excluding the neutral tone) for pinyin. How hard can remembering that be, right?

Be warned, your kid will have them messed up somehow.

Fret not, since there’s two unique way of making sure that won’t happen.

Tip #3

Using the ‘mustache’ method

Kids need imagination when acquiring any kind of knowledge. How cruel is it to be deprived of brilliantly bizzare pictures in the mind!

Imagery is a formidable weapon. Even pediatric psychologists use guided imagery recordings to help kid relax and deal with issues like pain management or anxiety.

Needlessly to say that visualization elevates the ability to retain knowledge. Long story short: the impact on learning without visual imagination is as real as the struggle of learning hanyu pinyin.

Anyway, here’s how visualization comes in when learning hanyu pinyin:

ā á ǎ à

Take a closer look at that. Doesn’t the second and fourth tone marks look like a mustache when placed side by side?

Extra tip

The colour code technique is another great alternative.

ā á ǎ à

Red for the first tone (ā), green for the second (á), blue for the third (ǎ) and black for the fourth (à). Of course, feel free to let your creativity flow or change the colours to what your child likes! This technique works well with flashcards or coloured pens too.


We get you, parents. We’re not blindly hoping that every one of our students become linguistic trailblazers. As educators, it’s more of helping them (and of course, you) through the ordeal.

Because forcing students to study is a thief of their joy. We need to unlock the magic of a self-driven force for learning. Although things like procrastination kicks in at times. And it’s not an adult privilege. Chances are your K2 kid who’s advancing into P1 isn’t just suddenly going to decide to study.
Fact is, your toddler is human too, so you can expect them to procrastinate too. But to make things slightly easier for you, here’s a checklist for you to prepare your K2 kid for P1 Chinese. Also, sign your kid up for a free trial lesson and see how much fun your kid will have with our online lesson.