chinese-tongue-twisters

20 Mandarin Chinese Tongue Twisters That Are Perfect for Practicing Tones

Try terrifically tricky tongue twisters that totally teach you Chinese posthaste!

Now say the above line five times fast.

If you can do this with ease, then you already start with a good chance at mastering the tongue twisters featured in this post.

Did you put some extra effort into this, or find yourself laughing at yourself for stumbling a little? Then, with that positive attitude, you have an even better chance.

No matter the language, tongue twisters are a fun way to help out with pronunciation when trying to learn new foreign syllables, words and phrases (or even mastering the ones in your own native language).

The main purpose of this article is to provide you with excellent Chinese tongue twisters that you can practice with right away.

Why Practice Chinese with Tongue Twisters?

Mandarin Chinese is pretty much the ideal language for crazy tongue twisters.

Language learners attempting to speak it find that tongue twisters really aid them in focusing on all the different tones that form the words and the meanings that go along with them.

Many people believe that Chinese tongue twisters are a lot harder than English ones and, well, they might be right. They can get super subtle and tricky, even for natives.

However, because of this, they’re an awesome way to really get you to practice not only a vast amount of Chinese words to help boost your vocabulary, but to also become more proficient with all of the diverse tones that make each word so unique. After all, tones are key to speaking fluent, comprehensible Chinese.

While learning tongue twisters may seem a little scary at first, most of the ones featured here are relatively short and simple. If you start slow, you’ll find that things are less difficult than you thought.

In other words, it doesn’t even matter what level of Chinese speaking you are at, because there are tongue twisters for learners of all levels! The following are 20 Mandarin tongue twisters that can help anyone who’s wanting to work on their foreign language speaking skills by partaking in an amusing and creative activity.

If you’re still unsure how to go about trying some, one nice tip to help you with pronunciation is to imagine you’re singing lyrics to a song. For other techniques to help you with Chinese pronunciation, click here.

20 Terrifically Tricky Chinese Tongue Twisters

1. The Lion-eating Poet

“The Lion-eating Poet” is one of the more modern poems on this list, yet it’s so profound that college professors have actually put a lot of time and effort into researching its true meaning.

Every syllable in the poem contains a form of shi using various tones and characters. Believe it or not, the variations in tones and characters allow shi to become tons of unique words when spoken correctly.

This is perfect for those already familiar with some Chinese who want not only a fun tongue twister, but a good brain teaser as well.

石室诗士施氏,嗜狮,誓食十狮。
氏时时适市视狮。
十时,适十狮适市。
是时,适施氏适市。
氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。
氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。
石室湿,氏使侍拭石室。
石室拭,氏始试食是十狮。
食时,始识是十狮尸,实十石狮尸。
试释是事。

Shí shì shī shì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shí shí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì 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, Shì shǐ shì shì shí shì.
Shí shì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

In a stone den, a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had 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 those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought 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 those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

2. Pear and Mud

Of all the combinations in the world, pear and mud usually don’t come to mind. When it comes to learning Chinese tongue twisters, there couldn’t be a better pair!

树上有梨
地上有泥
风刮梨
梨落地
梨滚泥
泥沾梨。

Shù shàng yǒu lí
dì shàng yǒu ní
Fēng guā lí
lí luò dì
lí gǔn ní
ní zhān lí.

Pear and mud
atop the tree, there is a pear
atop the ground, there is mud,
the wind knocks off the pear,
the pear falls to the ground,
the pears rolls on the mud,
the mud sticks to the pear.

3. Bamboo Pole

While the topic of bamboo poles may not be the most exciting to talk about, it makes for such a fun tongue twister!

“Bamboo Pole” helps speakers with the -ing, -ong, eng and -ang sounds as well as the various Chinese words that can be created from them.

扁担长,板凳宽,
扁担要绑在板凳上,
板凳不让扁担绑在板凳上,
扁担非要绑在板凳上。

biǎn dàn cháng, bǎn dèng kuān,
biǎn dàn bǎng zài le bǎn dèng shàng,
bǎn dèng bú ràng biǎn dàn bǎng zài bǎn dèng shàng,
biǎn dàn fēi yào bǎng zài bǎn dèng shàng.

A bamboo pole is long, and a bench is wide.
The bamboo pole was bound to the bench.
The bench did not allow the pole to be bound to it,
but the pole insisted on being bound to the bench.

4. Four Is Four, Ten Is Ten

Who knew that stating the obvious repeatedly can help you with your language learning?

It’s true. While this tongue twister may sound complicated when you hear it for the first time, the meaning couldn’t be any simpler.

The following is what this tongue twister consists of:

四是四。
十是十,
十四是十四,
四十是四十,
四十四是四十四。

sì shì sì.
shí shì shí,
shí sì shì shí sì,
sì shí shì sì shí,
sì shí sì shì sì shí sì.

Four is four.
ten is ten,
fourteen is fourteen,
forty is forty,
forty-four is forty-four.

See? It’s not so bad because both the numbers four and ten translate into shi, just with different tones. And if you’ve really been paying attention, then you may have noticed that it’s very similar to another tongue twister on this list. Do you know which one?

If you guessed that it’s similar to “The Lion-eating Poet” tongue twister, then you’re right!

Although the actual characters in both of the tongue twisters are different, both contain words that are only pronounced with the shi sound.

There’s a longer version to this tongue twister that includes the above while also describing how 40 is 40 but not 14, but let’s just keep it simple, shall we? You should get the idea of this one by now.

5. Eat Grapes

A tongue twister that teaches you the proper way to eat grapes. Be prepared to have your mind blown. If you eat grapes, this tongue twister will make you realize that you’ve been eating them wrong this whole entire time! Who would have thought that people needed help with eating grapes correctly?

Here’s probably one of the most famous Chinese tongue twisters:

吃葡萄不吐葡萄皮,
不吃葡萄倒吐葡萄皮。

chī pú táo bù tǔ pú táo pí,
bù chī pú táo dào tǔ pú táo pí.

Eat the grapes but don’t spit out the skins,
don’t eat the grapes but spit out the skins.

Makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Actually, this tongue twister is merely poking fun while utilizing the chibu, dao and putao words.

6. The Vine

This tongue twister talks about a particular vine on a particular mountain with this particular bell and… you get the idea. Overall, it’s a short and easy tongue twister that’s good for beginners. Give it a try!

青青山上一根藤,
青藤底下挂铜铃,
风吹藤动铜铃动,
风停藤停铜铃停。

Qīng qīng shān shàng yī gēn téng,
qīng téng dĭ xià guà tóng líng,
Fēng chuī téng dòng tóng líng dòng,
fēng tíng téng tíng tóng líng tíng.

On a green mountain grows a vine.
Under the vine there hangs a copper bell.
When the wind blows, the vine moves, and so does the bell.
When the wind stops, the vine stops, and the bell stops too.

7. Bird and Cat

There once was a bird and a cat… where the rest of story goes from there is totally up to you, but either way, one of these animals is probably going to end up worse off than before since they’re not known for getting along with each other.

This tongue twister explains what most likely happens when these adversarial creatures come together, all while helping you with niao and mao sounds.

树上一只鸟,
地上一只猫。
地上的猫想咬树上的鸟,
树上的鸟想啄猫的毛。

shù shang yì zhī niǎo, 
dì shang yì zhī māo. 
dì shang de māo xiǎng yǎo shù shang de niǎo,
shù shang de niǎo xiǎng zhuó māo de máo. 

The bird on the tree
The cat on the ground
From the ground, the cat tries to bite the bird in the tree
From the tree the bird tries to peck at the cat’s hairs.

8. Yan Yuanyan and Yan Yanyuan

Ever wanted to know about two people living in the same village who have almost the exact same name? In the end, it asks which person has the rounder eyes which is random, but at least learners will be able to practice their yan and yuan pronunciations.

村前有个颜圆眼。
村后有个颜眼圆。
不知颜圆眼的眼圆
还是颜眼圆的眼圆?

cūn qián yǒu gè yán yuán yǎn.
cūn hòu yǒu gè yán yǎn yuán.
bù zhī yán yuán yǎn dē yǎn yuán
hái shì yán yǎn yuán dē yǎn yuán?

In front of the village there is a Yan Yuanyan.
Behind the village there is a Yan Yanyuan.
Don’t know if Yan Yuanyan’s eyes are rounder
or Yan Yanyuan’s eyes are rounder?

9. Red Phoenix, Pink Phoenix…

Be prepared for one of the shortest Chinese tongue twisters ever.

If anything, you’ll always remember how to say the words red (红 – hóng), pink (粉 – fěn) and phoenix (凤凰 – fèng huáng) in Mandarin Chinese.

红凤,
凤粉红色,
粉红色凤。

hóng fèng huáng, 
fěn fèng huáng, 
fěn hóng fèng huáng.

Red phoenix,
pink phoenix,
pink-red phoenix

10. The Monk and the Mute

Unlike most of the other tongue twisters on this list, “The Monk and the Mute” is more detailed and elaborate in that it sort of tells a story.

Since it’s longer and contains more Chinese vocabulary words than a typical tongue twister, it will probably take longer to memorize. Once you finally get it down, you’ll be sure to impress.

打南边来了个哑巴,腰里别了个喇叭;
打北边来了个喇嘛,手里 提了个獭 犸。
提着獭犸的喇嘛要拿獭犸换别着喇叭的哑
巴的喇叭;
别着喇叭的哑巴不愿拿喇叭换提着獭犸的
喇嘛的獭犸。
不知是别着喇叭的哑巴打了提着獭犸的喇嘛
一喇叭;
还是提着獭犸的喇嘛打了别着喇叭的哑巴一
獭犸。
喇嘛回家炖獭犸,哑巴嘀嘀哒哒吹喇叭。

dǎ nán biān lái le gè yǎ bɑ, yāo lǐ bié le gè lǎ bɑ;
dǎ běi biān lái le gè lǎ mɑ, shǒu lǐ tí le gè tǎ mɑ.
tí zhe tǎ mɑ de lǎ mɑ yào ná tǎ mɑ huàn bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ de lǎ bɑ;
bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ bù yuàn ná lǎ bɑ huàn tí zhe tǎ mɑ de lǎ mɑ de tǎ mɑ.
bù zhī shì bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ dǎ le tí zhe tǎ mɑ de lǎ mɑ yī lǎ bɑ;
hái shì tí zhe tǎ mɑ de lǎ mɑ dǎ le bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ yī tǎ mɑ.
lǎ mɑ huí jiā dùn tǎ mɑ ,yǎ bɑ dī dī dā dā chuī lǎ bɑ.

From the north comes a mute, carrying a trumpet at his waist.
From the south comes a monk, holding a fish in his hand.
The monk who is holding a fish wants to trade his fish for a trumpet with the mute who is carrying a trumpet.
The mute who is carrying a trumpet doesn’t want to trade his trumpet with the monk who is holding the fish.
Not only the mute who is carrying a trumpet hits the monk who is holding a fish with his trumpet, the monk who is carrying a fish uses his fish to hit the mute who is carrying a trumpet.
The monk goes home and stews his fish.
The mute plays his trumpet.

By the way, there’s actually a song for this tongue twister! (Note it has been modified slightly.)

11. Bird Island

Bird lovers will surely appreciate the pure genius that is this next tongue twister.

鸟岛是岛,
鸟岛有鸟。
鸟岛的鸟多得数不清了。
要想到鸟岛,
一定要爱鸟。
你不爱小鸟
就别到鸟岛。

niáo dǎo shì dǎo,
niáo dǎo yóu niǎo.
niáo dǎo de niǎo duō de shǔ bù qīng le.
yào xiǎng dào niáo dǎo,
yī dìng yào ài niǎo.
nǐ bú ài xiáo niǎo
jiù bié dào niáo dǎo.

Bird Island is an island;
Bird Island has birds.
The birds on Bird Island are countless.
If you wish to go to Bird Island,
you must love birds.
If you don’t love small birds,
don’t go to Bird Island.

12. Ox Herder Boy Loves Lady Liu

For all of you romantics out there, this tongue twister was specially chosen for you! Brace yourselves though, it’s a slightly longer and more complex one.

牛郎恋刘娘,刘娘念牛郎,
牛郎牛年恋刘娘,刘娘年年念牛郎,
郎恋娘来娘恋郎,
念娘恋郎念郎恋娘,
念恋娘郎,绕不晕你算我白忙。

niú láng liàn liú niáng, liú niáng niàn niú láng,
niú láng niú nián liàn liú niáng, liú niáng nián nián niàn niú láng,
láng liàn niáng lái niáng liàn láng,
niàn niáng liàn láng niàn láng liàn nián,
niàn liàn niáng láng rào bù yūn nǐ suàn wǒ bái máng.

Ox herder boy loves Lady Liu, Lady Liu obsesses over the ox herder boy,
Ox herder boy loves Lady Liu in the year of the ox, Lady Liu obsesses over the ox herder boy in the year of the ox,
boy loves lady and lady obsesses over boy,
obsessing lady loves boy and obsessing boy loves lady,
obsessing, loving, lady, boy. If you aren’t dizzy by now, I’ve wasted my effort.

If you have trouble getting the hang of this one, at least the creator of this tongue twister admitted that they wanted to make you confused, so don’t feel too bad!

13. If You Know, Say You Know

Although this is just a tongue twister, truer words have never been spoken.

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?

zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào,
bù zhī dào jiù shuō bu zhī dào,
bù yào zhī dào shuō bu zhī dào,
yě bù 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.
You shouldn’t know and say you don’t know.
And you shouldn’t not know and say you do know.
You know?

14. Xi Shi

The tongue twister titled “Xi Shi” is derived from a Chinese woman who was said to be so beautiful that she was considered one of the four beauties of ancient China.

西施死時四十四。

Xī Shī sǐ shí sì shí sì.

Xi Shi died at 44.

Once again, the shi sound is used to form words and a phrase. You should be a pro at pronouncing it by the time you’re done reading this post!

15. Mother/Mama Rides a Horse

Not too many people get to see their mothers riding horses, but if you’re one of the lucky few who do, try to tell you mother (妈妈 – Mā mā) this one next time she does to show off your great Chinese speaking skills!

Just make sure you practice this one really well before you say it because if you don’t you might accidentally call her a horse (马 – Mǎ) and she probably won’t be very pleased with you.

妈妈骑马。
马慢,
妈妈骂马。

Mā mā qí mǎ.
Mǎ màn,
mā mā mà mǎ.

Mother rides a horse.
The horse is slow,
mother scolds the horse.

Unlike many other tongue twisters, this one is pretty realistic since mothers are known for scolding people (and animals), right? Again, just make sure that you know which form of ma you’re pronouncing!

16. Black Fertilizer, Grey Fertilizer

Surprisingly, this tongue twister actually makes sense.

黑化肥发灰,
灰化肥发黑。
黑化肥发灰会挥发,
灰化肥挥发会发黑。

hēi huà féi fā huī, 
huī huà féi fā hēi. 
hēi huà féi fā huī huì huī fā, 
huī huà féi huī fā huì fā hēi. 

Black fertilizer turns gray,
gray fertilizer turns black,
black fertilizer turns black when it evaporates,
evaporated gray fertilizer may turn black.

17. Is the Teacher 44 Years Old?

If you ever want to make your teacher feel older (or younger depending on the teacher) then consider practicing this awesome tongue twister and saying this whenever he or she is around. Because you’d be speaking Chinese, chances are they won’t understand you and you won’t offend them—unless they do know Chinese, and in that case, you should probably keep this tongue twister to yourself.

老师是或不是四十四的?

Lǎo shī shì bú shi sì shí sì de?

The teacher is or is not 44?

18. 800 Soldiers

Also know as “800 Pivot” or “800 Spearmen,” this is another terrific tongue twister to keep logged away for practicing more advanced vocabulary words.

八百標兵奔北坡
炮兵並排北邊跑
炮兵怕把標兵碰
標兵怕碰炮兵砲。

ba bai biao bing ben bei po 
pào bing bin pai bei bian pao 
pào bing pa ba biao bing pen
biao bing pa peng pào bing pào.

Eight hundred spearmen rush towards north hill slope
Artillery soldiers abreast in rows run towards the north
Artillery soldiers afraid to bump into the spearmen
Whereas the spearmen are afraid to bump into the artillery’s bomb.

19. Flip-flops

Believe it or not, there’s actually a tongue twister that talks about flip-flops. It’s quick and, especially if you really love shoes, this one will be really easy to remember.

凉鞋为乐趣飞出你的脚!

liáng xié wèi lè qù fēi chū nǐ de jiǎo! 

Flip-flops fly off your feet for fun!

Yep, that’s all there is to it. Here’s what each individual word means in English.

凉鞋 (liáng xié) — sandals/flip-flops
(wèi) — for
乐趣 (lè qù) — fun/pleasure
飞出 (fēi chū) — fly
(nǐ ) — you
的 (de) — ownership/possessiveness
(jiǎo) — foot

20. Butterfly Flies

Sounds so beautiful and poetic doesn’t it? “Butterfly Flies” is yet another quick tongue twister. You’ll hammer in the vocabulary words for butterfly (蝴蝶 – húdié), black (黑色 – hēisè) and gray (灰色 – huīsè).

It goes a little something like this:

黑蝴蝶飛,
灰蝴蝶飛,
黑蝴蝶飛完,
會蝴蝶飛。

hēi húdǐe fēi,
hūi húdǐe fēi, 
hēi húdǐe fēiwán, 
hūi húdǐe fēi. 

The black butterfly flies,
the gray butterfly flies,
after the black butterfly flies,
the gray butterfly flies.

 

After reading this article, you’re probably really eager to practice all of these tongue twisters and may even be wondering where you can find more.

If the tongue twisters on this list just got you eager to learn more, then check out “Classical Tongue Twisters: Chinese Edition” and “Pocket Book Twisters: Chinese Edition.” Both books can be purchased from Amazon and are filled with hundreds of tantalizing tongue twisters.

Good luck with your Chinese studies, and try not to get your tongue totally tied up in knots!

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