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  • Writer's pictureMaya Kirby

Asian Pronunciation Mistakes You're Probably Making

Languages are incredible instruments. They allow communication between populations and shape history, society, and culture. However, when one language is incorporated into another, well... The phrase 'lost in translation' exists for a reason.

Picture the scene. You're at a dinner party with guests you'd like to impress. The conversation turns towards interior design, and you just HAVE to mention the article you read on feng shui. But as soon as you finish your sentence, you realise you made a ghastly mistake.

"It's pronounced 'fung shway', actually." someone shrugs. Oops.

Dinner parties can be hard to navigate even without messing up Japanese phrases. But with a small amount of effort, you can learn the correct way to say some common Asian words (and avoid future embarrassment).

(Chinese) - Tsing Tao:

This Chinese lager is quickly gaining popularity outside Asia and is now available in many restaurants and shops in the West. The 'Ts' in 'Tsing' makes a 'ch' sound like in 'chat', and the 'T' in 'Tao' actually makes a 'd' sound like in 'dig' - so it's 'ching dao', not 'zing tao' as you may assume.


Rick Sanchez may be the most intelligent man in the *burp* universe, but he made a rookie mistake when talking about the McDonald's Szechuan sauce. Szechuan is one spelling, but it is also spelt Sichuan in Pinyin (a separate, more standardised system for translating Chinese to the Latin alphabet). It's pronounced 'siitch-won' as in 'situation' and 'wanted'.

Interestingly, the characters in Szechuan (四川) directly translate to 'four' and 'rivers'. However, it has been suggested that 'rivers' could also mean 'plains', referring to a division of the state in the Northern Song Dynasty.

Shenzhen/ Zhang:

A bustling Chinese city, Shenzhen is an industrial hub - but you may not be saying it right. 'Zh' is pronounced as a 'J' sound, so Shenzhen is pronounced 'Shen-jen'. Zhang ('jang') is a common Chinese surname, which means 'to draw a bow'.


This is a name typically given to women; the full word is pronounced as 'She-ahh'. 'X' is said as 'Sh' in Chinese.

(Japanese) Mochi:

Yes, it's 'mot-chi', not 'mocky'.

(Korean) Tteokbokki:

It might look diabolical but break it down, and it's not so bad. Double letters in Korean mean a stronger, harder version of that letter. 'Eo' is pronounced as 'huh', and voila! You can now order rice-cake sticks in spicy sauce - 'Duh-Bo-Ki'. It's a classic for a reason.

So there you have it - a very brief introduction to the murky (but very rewarding) world of Asian pronunciation. The world is your oyster.

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