Most Australian universities have a large number of international students. Common countries of origin include China, Singapore, and Malaysia. When interacting with students, it's much nicer if you can learn their name and pronounce it correctly. To reduce the scope of this question, I thought I'd limit it to Chinese names, but it could be broadened to include other Asian countries.

Several challenges emerge with Chinese names for an Australian (and presumably others from North America, Europe, etc.):

  • challenges of pronunciation
  • challenges when reading a Chinese name of knowing which part of the full name is the name to address the student by
  • challenges in remember the name. In particular, I find it difficult to remember a name that I can't pronounce. Furthermore, the less familiar I am with a name and the fewer associations I have with a name, the harder I find it is to remember.


  • How can I learn how to pronounce names of Chinese students?
  • How can I better recall names of Chinese students? e.g., get acquainted with common names, build some semantic knowledge around Chinese names.

I'd be particularly interested in any good online resources for this purpose.

UPDATE: Following the suggestion of @scaaahu I have asked this question also on Chinese Stack Exchange.com . I normally would not cross-post, but I think that this question might be a rare exception to the rule where cross-posting will provide complementary perspectives.

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    For the first question: why not just ask the student? Surely he or she knows how his or her name should be pronounced. I don't see why Chinese students should be treated any differently in this regard from Polish ones or Portuguese ones. – Willie Wong Jun 29 '12 at 11:04
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    I agree asking the student is a good general strategy. With regards to my context I find most European names relatively easy to understand and recall (e.g., the most common Portuguese name is Maria. There's a greater linguistic similarity to English. Also with regards to the Australian context, between 25 to 50% of students are international students (most have an Asian background). I think building up an appreciation of the general rules of Asian names including Chinese would be really helpful to me. – Jeromy Anglim Jun 29 '12 at 13:15
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    I also agree that this isn't really an issue when you are interacting with someone regularly. It's more of an issue when you have several large classes with 60 new names to learn or when you are wanting to pronounce the name of a researcher that you have never met. – Jeromy Anglim Jun 29 '12 at 13:20
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    As a Chinese learner, I advise that you could spend time to learn Chinese pronunciation. There aren't many different sounds in Chinese so you could use a pinyin chart to give you all the romanization representation of each sound and have a tutor help you pronunciation each one of them. As well as learning different tones. You don't actually have to learn the meaning, just the pronunciation which is the easiest part of learning any language. (Compared to vocab) quickmandarin.com/chinesepinyintable – Mallow Jul 1 '12 at 20:24

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank you for your consideration on behalf of all Chinese (I am a Chinese myself).

Now, to answer your questions. One of the best ways to pronounciate the individual Chinese names correctly is to ask them - those Chinese students. They would be glad to tell you.

In its nature, Chinese is hard for English speaking people to pronounce. This site is not the right place to discuss the details. There is a better stack exchange site.

There are many Chinese dialects. Mandarin Chinese is the most common one. I just did a search, that site seems to be a good place to use. I tried some of the audio sound clip, they sound fine.

Again, ask them is the best way. My Chinese last name is Hu. The correct pronounciation is like "who". Many non-Chinese speaking people pronounced it wrong. I already got used to it. But I am always happy to tell them the right way when they ask me. So, thank you again for asking.

Your second question is how to recall the Chinese names. This is even harder for non-Chinese speaking person. My suggestion is to ask individuals what names they go by. If they have English names, would they prefer you call their English names. I believe most of them would say yes. If they insist you calling their Chinese names, I am afraid the only way is to ask their names every time you meet them. I am not sure they would like it. But, if that's what they want, that's the way they get.

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    Do Chinese get offended if their names are mispronounced? I am an Indian, but if someone pronounces my name wrongly, I won't really bother! – Bravo Jun 28 '12 at 4:08
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    I think it's reasonable to expect someone to be a little annoyed if their name is mispronounced. I know I get annoyed. – Suresh Jun 28 '12 at 4:11
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    @Bravo, it depends. Some would, some don't. But, I got a little bit upset when someone jokes about my name, like "Who is Hu(who)?". – scaaahu Jun 28 '12 at 4:17
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    Thanks for the suggestions. I'm happy to ask students. However, I would like to develop a basic framework for understanding Chinese names. E.g., pronunciation rules, know common names, know whether a name is male or female or gender-neutral, know which written name is the given name, know whether a name is Chinese or not, etc. I think having such a framework would make it easier to actually use Chinese names in real-world settings. – Jeromy Anglim Jun 28 '12 at 6:14
  • @JeromyAnglim, it's not that I don't want to answer your question. You actually ask a very good one - basic framework for Chinese naming. I believe you'll get good answers from Chinese Language SE. Please try there. – scaaahu Jun 28 '12 at 6:40

There's a specific site that has examples of Chinese names. you might find that quite helpful. There aren't audio files though, and there seems to be a disagreement between the site and the one linked above about the correct pronounciation of zh (as 'dr' or 'j')

  • Mandarin is my native language, so I don't use those sites often. I found the site I cited by Google. I cannot claim it's 100% correct. Actually, the pronounciation of zh is more complicated than the difference between dr or j. I am afraid the details is off-topic. – scaaahu Jun 28 '12 at 4:40

Learning how to pronounce

As has already been mentioned, the best way is probably to ask the person yourself. As a Chinese, I don't expect a non-Chinese to be able to pronounce my Chinese name correctly; pronouncing the pinyin is good enough. Furthermore, I wouldn't expect a non-Chinese to know how to get the four tones correct.

However, if you're curious, and if you know the exact Chinese characters, one convenient resource is to use Google Translate's audio tool to play back Chinese words:


You'll need to either cut and paste the characters into the text box, or use the handwriting tool to input the characters. Note that the accuracy of the handwriting tool is likely dependent on getting the stroke order correct.

Remembering Chinese names

Unless the Chinese name is very common, it's likely very hard to remember a person's Chinese name without writing it down. In academic circles, if the person has a publication record, you could get hold of this indirectly by getting a journal reference to a paper authored by the person. Alternatively, with social media, you could add/follow the person via Research Gate, LinkedIn or Facebook. Now that you have the name in writing, you could also check on the web as to how it is pronounced.

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