The video above explains clearly how to pronounce the Mandarin Chinese initials ch, sh, zh and r. The final “en” is used, which sounds like the “en” in the English name “Jen”.
The first step is to position your tongue correctly. An ease way to do this is to say the word “pleasure”. Take note of where your tongue is when you start pronouncing the “s” in “pleasure”. Freeze with your tongue in that location. You’ll notice your tongue is a bit back in your mouth and away from the teeth.
Now, without moving the general location of the tongue, curl it so the bottom tip of your tongue is light up against the roof of your mouth. That’s it! Ch, sh, zh and r are all pronounced with the tongue in this position and curled.
“Ch” is produced by trying to pronounce the English “ch” while the tongue remains curled. It may take a little practice. You may notice that some English words beginning with “ch” may be pronounced with a “y” sound in there. For example, “cheap” is actually pronounced as “ch yeap”, but the “y” is super light, almost non-existent. In Chinese however, there is no “y” sound. In fact, in Chinese, you’ll hear the “y” in “qian”, but not in “chen”. Keep your lips apart when pronouncing “chen” to ensure that there is no hint of “y”.
“Sh” is the same. When pronouncing “shen”, there should not be any “y” sound. Remember to keep your lips spaced apart. You will hear the “y” in “xian”.
“Zh” is pronounced similar to the English “g” in “George”. With the tongue in the same position and curled as “ch” and “sh”, pronounce a “zhen”.
Finaly, “r” is just like the others. The main difference is that the curled tongue is not pressed up against the roof of your mouth. There is a small space in between. Again, keep your lips apart when pronouncing “ren” to ensure that it’s your curled tongue and pallet that is making the “r” sound, and not your lips, as in the English “r”.
Again, watch the video above for a clear explanation.