The Song was once Sung, but I’m not talking about singing. The topic refers to ‘how to pronounce Chinese words if you can’t read Chinese characters’
When I was at school, we simply learnt to recognise and remember characters just as we learnt to write them. You develop a good memory; indeed you must if you want to read and write. I guess that’s what people mean when they say, oh you Chinese are so clever. Well, things are changing.
Chinese children are now learning the alphabets at school so that they can spell the sounds of the characters. The system, 漢語拼音 generally known as ‘Pinyin’ is a romanisation system for Chinese. Just like any phonetic alphabets, it has its own rules of pronunciation. Once, Chinese children in different regions learnt to read in their own dialects, different pronunciations for the same words; now they all learn Putonghua 普通話，the common language; what the West refers to as Mandarin.
It would be sensible for the rest of the world to adopt the same system so we can all learn the same spelling and pronunciation for the same characters, but when has the world ever agreed on anything?
The West had developed their own phonetics for Chinese. The French and Russians have theirs and the English speaking world favoured Wade Giles over Pinyin. Song 宋 Dynasty, for example, was spelt Sung Dynasty. My advice to serious students of the Chinese language is: stick to Pinyin and ditch Wade Giles; put those textbooks that use the Wade Giles system in the museum, where they belong. The Song is no longer Sung.