As a language learner, it’s important to tackle the language with fun and positivity. Teachers across the world love using tongue twisters to bring a little light to a difficult subject - and with good reason! Tongue twisters not only help with pronunciation, but also help with the inflection of words, which is true for languages with varying tones like Chinese.
English speakers may recognize familiar tongue twisters like ‘Peter Piper’, ‘Woodchuck Chuck’, or most famously ‘She Sells Seashells’. While these English alliterations are already difficult as is, practicing Chinese tongue twisters will challenge the curious Mandarin student’s ability to juggle consonants, tones, and shifting mouth shapes. Read on to test your speaking skills and impress your fellow Mandarin learners!
1. Four is Four, Forty is Forty.
How well do you know your Chinese numbers? Try your hand at this tricky tongue twister that is meant for beginner learners. While the meaning of the twister is simple, the pronunciation is one of the hardest in this list. This tongue twister tests your capability to distinguish between the sh- and s- sounds in the Chinese language. Throw in the varying tones and you have got yourself a difficult twister to master!
PinYin: sì shì sì. shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí, sì shí sì shì sì shí sì.
Translation: Four is four. Ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty, forty-four is forty-four.
2. Uh oh...Mom’s Mad!
Here’s another simple tongue twister to start out with as a beginner. This one’s fairly easy since it uses the easy consonant sound m-. The difficult aspect of this twister is the conquering of different tones. If you’re struggling with the Chinese tones, check out this Speechling blog post breaking down Chinese tones.
PinYin: mā mā qí mǎ, mǎ màn, mā mā mà mǎ.
Translation: Mom is riding a horse. The horse is slow. Mom yells at the horse.
3. Grapes - Skin On or Skin Off?
This random tongue twister doesn’t have a sensical meaning, but is nevertheless fun to attempt! It’s a little more challenging than the others and offers different consonants to practice, like ch-, p-, and b-. It may be easier to grasp your tongue around this one than the rest.
Simplified: 吃 葡 萄 不 吐 葡 萄 皮 ,不 吃 葡 萄 倒 吐 葡 萄 皮 。
Traditional: 吃 葡 萄 不 吐 葡 萄 皮 ,不 吃 葡 萄 倒 吐 葡 萄 皮。
PinYin: chī pú táo bù tǔ pú táo pí, bù chī pú táo dào tǔ pú táo pí.
Translation: Eat a grape but you don’t spit out the grape skin, don’t eat a grape but spit out a grape skin.
4. If You Don’t Know, Now You Know.
This expert-level twister requires a solid understanding of what you’re saying in order to successfully deliver the tongue twister. Once you fully know the meaning, this Chinese tongue twister will come naturally.
Simplified: 知道就说知道, 不知道就说不知道, 不要知道说不知道, 也不要不知道说知道, 你知道不知道？
Traditional: 知道就說知道，不知道就說不知道。不要知道說不知道，也不要不知道說知道， 你知道不知道？
PinYin: zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào, bù zhī dào jiù shuō bu zhī dào. bú yào zhī dào shuō bu zhī dào, yě bú yào bù zhī dào shuō zhī dào, nǐ zhīdào bù zhīdào?
Translation: If you know say you know, if you don’t know say you don’t know. Don’t say you don’t know when you know, and don’t say you don’t know when you do know. Do you understand?
5. A Poet and His Lions.
This next twister actually stems from a longer 92-character poem written by Zhao Yuanren (趙元任 - Zhào Yuán Rèn) The entire poem is an exemplary representation of the Chinese language’s use of characters. Mandarin has a unique form of constrained writing, which features one-syllable articles that takes advantage of the many homophones within the language. Try your tongue at this simple sentence after you’ve attempted your fours, and if you’re really up for a challenge, try the whole poem!
PinYin: shì shí shí shīzi.
Translation: Ten stone lions.
The Full Poem
shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shīshì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shī Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
shíshì shì, Shīshì shǐ shì shí shì shí shīshī.
shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shīshī, shí shí shí shī shī.
shì shì shì shì.
In a stone den there was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict and resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw the ten lions, and using his trusty arrows caused the ten lions to die.
He took the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat the ten lions.
When he ate, he realised that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Now it’s over to you to practice these tongue twisters. This is a short list to help you get started in the world of Chinese twisters and rhymes. The language itself lends a wide variety of poems, rhymes, and twisters due to the expansive collection of homophones and one-syllable words. It helps to record yourself and hear where you’re struggling the most - whether it’s the tones or the difference between sh- and s-. Regardless if you’re a beginner or an expert, Chinese tongue twisters are a challenge to overcome. Practice with a fellow curious Mandarin learner or use Speechling to get personalized coaching.
If you need a break from Chinese, head on over to our Spanish section and try out some Spanish tongue twisters for fun! With the rolled R’s and speed, you’re definitely in for a treat! Or check out Speechling’s services to get started on your language learning journey today.