20 Terrific Yet Tricky Tongue Twisters That Totally Teach You Chinese Posthaste
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.
Also just keep in mind that a large part of communication is listening, so in addition to practicing your speaking with the Chinese tongue twisters below, you’ll want to make sure you get in plenty of listening practice.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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:
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 chi, bu, 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!
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.
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.
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.
hóng fèng huáng,
fěn fèng huáng,
fěn hóng fèng huáng.
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.
打北边来了个喇嘛，手里 提了个獭 犸。
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mā mā qí mǎ.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
为 (wèi) — for
乐趣 (lè qù) — fun/pleasure
飞出 (fēi chū) — fly
你 (nǐ ) — you
的 (de) — ownership/possessiveness
脚 (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:
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 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!