How Can You Benefit From Practicing Chinese Tongue Twisters?
There are many benefits of practicing Chinese tongue twisters. Firstly tongue twisters help you practice your pronunciations. Chinese tongue twisters were written in the same approach as tongue twisters in any language, which is to combine similar sounds together to make some sort of meaning into sentences. When you practice pronouncing those similar sounds super clearly, this process helps you tremendously in pronunciations. One unique thing about Chinese tongue twisters is that they incorporate tones. As you know, Chinese is a tonal language. When the tone changes, the meaning of Chinese words changes. Therefore, some Chinese tongue twisters are to emphasize the tones in order to make sense of sentences. If you would like to work on your tones, practicing Chinese tongue twisters would certainly help.
Steps of How to Practice Them
- Read the texts and understand the meaning first: You have to understand what the texts are all about first. This will help you know what you are talking about. When you have a good understanding of the texts in your brain, you can do a much better job saying them out loud.
- Read aloud the text slowly the first time: And figure out which pronunciations are harder for you, so you can give those specific words a few more times of practice on the side.
- Read aloud the whole tongue twisters with speed: You don’t need to go super fast for the first time, but instead, just keep increasing the speed little by little. In the end, I’m sure you will get to the speed you hoped for. I would also suggest recording yourself, so you can play back to hear how you sound. This way helps you know if there are specific pronunciations, tones, or fluency that you would like to work on more.
Well, now you know how to practice them. Below are the top ten popular Chinese tongue twisters arranged from easier ones to more challenging ones.
Chinese Tongue Twister 1: Four is Four
This is the most common and relatively easy Chinese tongue twister and mainly works with the tones as well as the s- sound and sh- sound. Whenever you hear people say the “Chinese tongue twister shi,” it refers to this one.
Tongue twister in pinyin below.
sì shì sì
shí shì shí,
shí sì shì shí sì,
sì shí shì sì shí.
The translation is
4 is 4,
10 is 10.
14 is 14,
40 is 40.
Chinese Tongue Twister 2: Mom Riding a Horse
This one is also one of the popular ones. Most importantly, this perfectly shows that Chinese is a tonal language– when the tones of pronunciation are different, they correspond with different characters and means differently. For example, 妈(mā, mom), 马(mǎ, horse), and 骂 (mà, to scold) were used in this Chinese tongue twister. Whenever you heard people saying the Chinese tongue twister “ma”, it’s mostly referring to this one.
Tongue twister in pinyin here.
mā ma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, mā ma mà mǎ.
The translation is
Mother rides a horse. The horse is slow, the mother scolds the horse.
Chinese Tongue Twister 3: Eating Grapes
Do you spit out the grape skin or not?! This is the Chinese tongue twister that centers around the grapes. Why grapes? you asked. It is because the word “grapes (葡萄pú táo)” and “skin (皮 pí)” all start with the p- sound which makes them interesting to pronounce if you combine these two words together in one sentence.
Here is the pinyin.
chī pú táo bù tǔ pú táo pí, bù chī pú táo dào tǔ pú táo pí.
When eating grapes don’t spit out the grape skin. When not eating grapes spit out the grape skin.
Chinese Tongue Twister 4: Hot Soup
This one is super short, only two sentences, but not the easiest to say smoothly. It works with the -ang sound and the -a sound which are two of the most common ending sounds in Chinese. For instance, 汤(tāng, soup), 烫(tàng, to burn) and 上 (shàng, up) for the -ang sounds and 洒(sǎ, spill out), 塔(tǎ, tower), 滑(huá, slippery) for the -a sounds were used in this one.
lǎo tóu duān tāng shàng tǎ, tǎ huá tāng sǎ tāng tàng tǎ.
The old man served the soup and go up to the tower. The tower is slippery, the soup spilled out and burned the tower.
Chinese Tongue Twister 5: Do You Know?
The meaning of this one is fairly easy to understand and the pronunciation is relatively easy too. However, be sure you are aware of the tone changes on the word 不, so you know when to pronounce it as 4th tone and 2nd tone.
zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào,
bù zhī dào jiù shuō bù zhī dào,
bú yào zhī dào shuō bù zhī dào,
yě bú yào bù zhī dào shuō zhī dào,
nǐ zhī dào bù zhī dào?
If you know just say you know,
if you don’t know just say you don’t know,
Don’t say you don’t know if you know,
Also, don’t say you know if you don’t know.
Do you know?
Chinese Tongue Twister 6: Butterflies fly
Do you like butterflies? If you do, this one would be fun to read. Also, because the word, butterfly (蝴蝶 hú dié) was repeated in every single line, you’ll memorize this word after multiple times of practices for sure.
hēi hú dié fēi,
hūi hú dié fēi,
hēi hú dié fēi wán,
hūi hú dié fēi.
The black butterfly flies,
The gray butterfly flies,
After the black butterfly flies,
The gray butterfly flies.
Chinese Tongue Twister 7: The Phoenix
This one is under the same approach as the one above– the keyword, phoenix, was repeated many times.
hóng fèng huáng fēi,
fěn fèng huáng fēi,
hóng fěn fèng huáng fēi,
fěn hóng fèng huáng fēi.
Red phoenix flies,
pink phoenix flies,
red-pink phoenix flies,
pink-red phoenix flies.
Chinese Tongue Twister 8: Comparing Whose Legs are Bigger
This one is slightly harder because it only focuses on a few keywords, but still, makes decent meanings out of it. It focuses on the c- sound (崔 cuī as the last name and 粗 cū as thick/big).
This Chinese tongue twister in pinyin is the following.
shān qián yǒu ge cuī cū tuǐ,
shān hòu yǒu ge cuī tuǐ cū.
liǎng rén shàng shān bǐ tuǐ cū.
bù zhī shì shān qián de cuī cū tuǐ de tuǐ cū,
hái shì shān hòu de cuī tuǐ cū de tuǐ cū.
It translates to the following.
There is a person named Cui cu tui who lives in front of the mountain. (Please note, Cui is the last name, the original meaning of cu is thick, and the original meaning of tui is leg. Cu and tui were used as a part of the names in this tongue twister.)
There is a person named Cui tu cu who lives behind the mountain.
Two people go to the top of the mountain to compare whose legs are bigger/thicker.
Don’t know whether the legs of Cui cu tui (who lives in front of the mountains) are thicker or the legs of Cui tui cu (who lives behind the mountains) are thicker.
Chinese Tongue Twister 9: Comparing Whose Eyes are Rounder
This one has a similar structure as the one above. They all use particular meanings to be people’s names.
shān qián yǒu ge yán yuán yǎn,
shān hòu yǒu ge yán yǎn yuán.
èr rén shān qián lái bǐ yǎn,
bù zhī shì shān qián de yán yuán yǎn de yǎn yuán,
hái shì shān hòu de yán yǎn yuán de yǎn yuán.
It translates to the following.
There is a person named Yan yuan yan who lives in front of the mountain. (Please note, Yan is the last name, the original meaning of yuan is round, and the original meaning of yan is eyes. Yuan and yan were used as a part of the names in this tongue twister.)
There is a person named Yan yan yuan who lives behind the mountain.
Two people go to the front of the mountain to compare whose eyes are rounder.
Don’t know whether the eyes of Yan yuan yan who lives in front of the mountains are rounder or the eyes of Yan yan yuan who lives behind the mountains are rounder.
Chinese Tongue Twister 10: The Stone Lion Tongue Twister
You can’t miss this popular and yet hard Chinese tongue twister. People often call it “the Stone Lion Tongue Twister.” However, you should know that this is more than a tongue twister. It’s originally a poem named “the Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den.《施氏食狮史》(Shī shì shí shī shǐ)” It’s a so-called one-sound poem, written in classical Chinese. Although this poem has only one sound (shi) with different tones, they correspond with different characters to provide the meanings of the poem. It makes it easier to read, but harder to pronounce; hence, the tongue twister. If you heard people talking about the Chinese tongue twister “shi”, it’s most likely referring to this one.
Who is the author?
The author of the poem is called Yuan Ren Chao (趙元任). He is a famous Chinese-American poet and he wrote this poem back in the 1930s in the US. In addition, he was credited as the Father of Modern Linguistics for his contribution to the study of Chinese grammar and linguistics.
Why did Mr. Chao write this one-sound poem?
This poem was written as a linguistic demonstration to show that it is possible to make meanings out of one-sound text in a poem. In other words, it is a way to show that Chinese is a tonal language. Isn’t it fascinating?!
Now, at this time you have known the background information about the author and the poem/tongue twister, are you ready to give it a try?! I have to say– it would take a few times of practice to make it sound smooth.
Ps. If you are interested in reading more about this poem and its background, here is its wikipedia page.
« Shī shì shí shī shǐ »
shí shì shī shì shī shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
shī shì shí shí shì shì shì shī.
shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
shì shí, shì shī shì shì shì shì.
shī shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì,
shǐ shì shí shī shì shì.
shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shí shì.
shí shì shī, shī shì shǐ shì shì shí shì.
shí shì shì, shī shì shǐ shì shì shí shī.
shí shí, shǐ shì shí shī shí shí shí shī shī.
shì shì shì shì.
It translates to the followings.
A poet named Shi Shi lived in a stone den. He was addicted to eating lions and swore to eat ten lions. Therefore, he went to the market all the time to look for ten lions. One day at ten o’clock, ten lions in the market. Therefore, he went to the market at that time. He looked at the ten lions and made them pass away by using his arrows. He picked up the ten lions’ corpses and move them to his stone den. The stone den was damped, so he asked his servant to wipe the stone den. After the den was wiped, he started eating the ten lions’ corpses. When he was eating, he realized those ten lions’ corpses were actually ten stone lions’ corpses. So, he tried to explain this matter.
- Can I learn Chinese tongue twisters as a non-native speaker?
Short answer, ABSOLUTELY YES! Please don’t worry about whether you, as a non-native speaker, can learn them or not. I can assure you that you can learn them just as well as native speakers. To be honest, even native speakers need to practice those Chinese tongue twisters many times before they sound good or understandable. As I always say, practice makes perfect.
- What is the hardest Chinese tongue twister ever?
There will be different answers depending on whom you ask. In my point of view, the Chinese tongue twister with lions is the hardest one. It’s partly because it’s a really long one. It’s also because it’s a one-sound poem written in classic Chinese. This one is even hard for native speakers to understand the meanings as well as to pronounce correctly and smoothly.
- How do you say “tongue twisters” in Chinese?
This is a good question. “Tongue Twisters” in Chinese is 绕口令(rào kǒu lìng). 绕 means to “circle around”, 口 means “mouth”, 令 means “command or a short form of the poem.”
To conclude, I hope you enjoy these fabulous Chinese tongue twisters. If you are interested in more fun facts about the Chinese language, you might want to take a look at the story of 马马虎虎(mǎ mǎ hū hū, so so).