It’s important to have a little fun when learning languages – something that especially true for Chinese. We’ve searched high and low, and by that I mean asked our writers and editors, to give you our top 5 Chinese tongue twisters that you need to know in Mandarin. Why learn tongue twisters in Chinese when you haven’t yet mastered ‘Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry’ in English, I hear you ask? Because they’re great for improving your tonal pronunciation and they’re fun (at least we think so…) – just don’t go confusing yourself if you have an upcoming exam!
It’s the tonal nature of Chinese that makes the language perfectly suited to tongue twisters and also makes them oh so difficult to master! Are you up for the challenge? Each of the tongue twisters are listed first in simplified and then in traditional characters. Why not try to read them directly from the characters first before heading onto Pinyin?
1. Think you know your numbers? Then it’s time to show this first tongue twister who’s boss. This is the easiest Chinese tongue twister we have found at TCB, at least by meaning, but it’s one of the hardest to wrap your tongue around!
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.
2. 10 Stone Lions – the Chinese tongue twister to end all tongue twisters – is an example of an one-syllable article, which is a form of constrained writing unique to Mandarin Chinese.
shí zūn shí shīzi.
10 stone lions.
Easy? Why not try the whole poem below – this is perhaps the most famous of all Chinese tongue twisters. It contains 92 characters that all have the phonetic pronunciation ‘shi’ – I hope you know your ‘shí’ from your ‘shī’, otherwise this one is going to get messy!
shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
shì shíshí 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 shìshì.
shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, 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.
3. We all know how teachers feel about students commenting on their age, so use the next one with caution!
Lǎo shī shì bú shi sì shí sì de?
Is the teacher 44-years-old or not?
4. If you don’t know, now you know…
zhīdào jiù shuō zhīdào
bù zhīdào jiù shuō bù zhīdào
bū yào zhīdào shuō bù zhīdào
yě bū yào bù zhīdào shuō zhīdào
nǐ zhīdào bù zhīdào?
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 know. Do you know or not?
5. You can count on there being a tongue twister which uses the phonetic sound ‘ma’ in Chinese. If I had a penny for every time somebody called my mum a horse…
mā mā qí mǎ, mǎ màn, mā mā mà mǎ.
Mother is riding a horse. The horse moves slowly. Mother tells the horse off.
I think my tongue is tied quite enough for one day! As you can see, there are many Chinese tongue twisters that are easy to understand by meaning (with the exception of ’10 Stone Lion’). Tongue twisters are a fun and challenging way to improve pronunciation and, as we all know, there’s plenty of room for thinking outside the box when it comes to learning Chinese!
Got any that you would like to contribute? Contact us here, or reach out on our social media channels. Even better – send in a video or audio recording of you trying out one of the tongue twisters… there’ll be prizes!