Pinyin is a romanization system used to transliterate Mandarin Chinese . It is used to describe the sound and pitch of individual Chinese characters. Pinyin in Chinese is 拼音, which literally means "spelled sounds". For beginners who do not know any Chinese, pinyin is a useful tool in helping them learn new Chinese words. Also, knowing pinyin can be helpful when you need to type Chinese characters on a keyboard. There are often various pinyin input options for the Chinese language on most computers.
There are four basic tones in pinyin:
1st tone - ā ē ī ō ū ǖ
2nd tone - á é í ó ú ǘ
3rd tone - ǎ ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ
4th tone - à è ì ò ù ǜ
Changing the tone can change the meaning of what you are trying to convey. For example, 'mā' (妈) means 'mother' in Chinese, but when you change the 1st tone to the 3rd one - 'mǎ' (马), it will sound like you are saying 'horse'.
There are approximately 413 pinyin sounds. If you can remember and pronounce all of them correctly, then you will have a solid foundation from which you can build on to learn to speak Chinese.