For any Westerns who want a serious study of Mandarin, learning a romanization system is very important. Pinyin is the romanization of the Chinese "write sound." Romanization approximates Mandarin pronunciation with Western spellings and includes a tone mark to signify at what pitch to say a word. This provides a phonetic alphabet for Chinese, which otherwise would not have one. Without this, a non-native would have an extremely difficult time learning the language.
The key to using romanization is to use the letters as a reminder of what the authentic sound is like. (That may sound a little obvious, but trying to sound it out from the spelling alone doesn't make for accurate Chinese.) If followed as intended, the letter combinations are very close to the Chinese sound and can help in learning proper pronunciation.
However, pinyin does not follow English letters exactly. While the symbols are generally close to how they are used in English, they represent Chinese sounds. Be sure and listen closely to each Chinese sound, it takes practice to pronounce accurately.
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