Knotty Mandarin: Tongue Twisters for Beginners and Beyond

Bodhi Ramos10 min
Created: Feb 19, 2024Last updated: Mar 29, 2024
Chinese Tongue Twisters

Learning Chinese tongue twisters can be a highly beneficial and engaging way to master the language’s complex pronunciation. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced speaker, it can be a great chance to challenge yourself and strengthen your skills. Today, we’ve collected the best tongue twisters for various levels. 

Easy and Fun Chinese Tongue Twisters

It is no secret that the Chinese language is quite difficult to learn. For beginners, even some words can sound like actual tongue twisters. So, if you are just starting your journey toward fluency in Mandarin, check out this list of simple tongue twisters to strengthen your pronunciation.

  • 四是四, 十是十, 十四是十四, 四十是四十.

Pronunciation: sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí.

Meaning: Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty.

There is an even longer version of this si shi si tongue twister, but let’s stop at this one for starters. It is one of the most popular phrases for beginners, which allows you to master similar s- and sh- sounds and different tones.

  • 吃葡萄不吐葡萄皮, 不吃葡萄倒吐葡萄皮.

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

Meaning: Eat grapes without spitting out the grape skins, don’t eat grapes and spit out the grape skins.

Makes no sense, huh? Well, although the literal translation looks kind of gibberish, it is still a great expression to practice pronunciation. By the way, the Chinese grape tongue twister was created specifically for mastering different sounds.

  • 西施死时四十四.

Pronunciation: xī shī sǐ shí sì shí sì.

Meaning: Xi Shi died at 44.

Xi Shi, according to the legend, was one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China. And this tongue twister is about her.

  • 妈妈骑马. 马慢, 妈妈骂马.

Pronunciation: māma qí mǎ. mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ.

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

This tongue twister is among the first ones learned by people beginning their Chinese journey. It is relatively easy but still helps to nail consonant sounds and tones.

  • 红凤凰, 粉凤凰, 粉红凤凰.

Pronunciation: hóng fèng huáng, fěn fèng huáng, fěn hóng fèng huáng.

Meaning: Red phoenix, pink phoenix, pink-red phoenix.

The last tongue twister on our easy list is a great option for those aiming to learn to differentiate similar vowel sounds. And also, it is perfect for learning the names of some colors!

Intermediate Tongue Twisters in Chinese

If you have an Intermediate level, you can challenge yourself with more challenging tongue twisters. They are much longer and allow you to practice different sounds, expand your vocabulary, and learn a bunch of new words. Here are some of our favorite Chinese tongue twisters for the Intermediate level.

  • 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.

Pronunciation: 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.

Meaning: Black fertilizer turns gray, gray fertilizer turns black. If the black fertilizer turns gray, it will volatilize. If the gray fertilizer volatilizes, it will turn black.

  • 刘奶奶找牛奶奶买牛奶, 牛奶奶给刘奶奶拿牛奶, 刘奶奶说牛奶奶的牛奶不如柳奶奶的牛奶.

Pronunciation: liú nǎi nai zhǎo niú nǎi nai mǎi niú nǎi, niú nǎi nai gěi liú nǎi nai ná niú nǎi, liú nǎi nai shuō niú nǎi nai de niú nǎi bù rú liǔ nǎi nai de niú nǎi.

Meaning: Grandma Liu is looking for Grandma Niu to buy milk. Grandma Niu gives Grandma Liu some milk. Grandma Liu says that Grandma Niu’s milk isn’t as good as Grandma Liu’s milk.

  • 树上有梨, 地上有泥. 风刮梨. 梨落地. 梨滚泥. 泥沾梨.

Pronunciation: shù shàng yǒu lí, dì shàng yǒu ní. fēng guā lí. lí luò dì. lí gǔn ní. ní zhān lí.

Meaning: On the tree is a pear, and on the ground is mud. The wind knocks off the pear. The pear falls to the ground. The pear rolls in the mud. The mud moistens the pear.

  • 坡下立着一只鹅, 坡下就是一条河. 宽宽的河, 肥肥的鹅, 鹅要过河, 河要渡鹅, 不知是鹅过河, 还是河渡鹅.

Pronunciation: pō xià lì zhe yì zhī é, pō xià jiù shì yì tiáo hé. kuān kuān de hé, féi féi de é, é yào guò hé, hé yào dù é, bù zhī shì é guò hé, hái shì hé dù é.

Meaning: There is a goose standing at the bottom of the slope, and there is a river at the bottom of the slope. The river is wide; the goose is fat… The goose has to cross the river, and the river has to cross the goose. Don’t know whether the goose crosses the river or the river crosses the goose.

  • 八百标兵奔北坡, 北坡八百炮兵炮, 标兵怕碰炮兵炮, 炮兵怕把标兵碰.

Pronunciation: bā bǎi biāo bīng bèn běi pō, běi pō bā bǎi pào bīng pào, biāo bīng pà pèng pào bīng pào, pào bīng pà bǎ biāo bīng pèng.

Meaning: 800 soldiers rush to the north slope. On the north slope, 800 artillerymen have cannons. The soldier is afraid of touching the artilleryman’s cannons. Artillerymen are afraid of hitting the soldiers.

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Chinese Tongue Twister Phrases for Advanced Level

And now, it is time for great fun. In the list below, you’ll find only three Chinese tongue twisters. However, they are considered to be among the most difficult ones to pronounce. So, why don’t you give them a try? And let us know in the comments how you’ve dealt with the last one!

  • 你婆婆借给我婆婆一个钵钵, 我婆婆打烂了你婆婆的钵钵. 我婆婆买来一个钵钵, 还给你婆婆. 你婆婆说什么也不要我婆婆赔钵钵, 我婆婆硬要把买来的钵钵还给你婆婆.

Pronunciation: nǐ pó po jiè gěi wǒ pó po yí gè bō bō, wǒ pó po dǎ làn le nǐ pó po de bō bō. wǒ pó po mǎi lái yí gè bō bō, huán gěi nǐ pó po. nǐ pó po shuō shén me yě bú yào wǒ pó po péi bō bō, wǒ pó po yìng yào bǎ mǎi lái de bō bō huán gěi nǐ pó po.

Meaning: Your grandmother lent my grandmother a bowl. My grandmother broke your grandmother’s bowl. My grandmother bought a new bowl and returned it to your grandmother. Your grandmother said she didn’t want my grandmother to compensate for the bowl, but my grandmother insisted on returning the newly bought bowl to your grandmother.

  • 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?

Pronunciation: zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào, bù zhī dào jiù shuō bù zhī dào, bù yào zhī dào shuō bù zhī dào, yě bù yào bù zhī dào shuō zhī dào, nǐ zhī dào bù zhī dào?

Meaning: 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 know and say you do know. You know?

  • 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.

Pronunciation: 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.

Meaning: Shi Shi was a lion lover and vowed to eat ten lions. He would go to the market at all times to see the lions. At ten o’clock, ten lions came to the market. It is the right time for Shi to go to the market. He used the strength of his arrows to kill the ten lions. He picked up the bodies of the ten lions and put them in the stone room. When the stone room was wet, he asked the servants to wipe the stone room. When the room was wiped, he tried to eat the ten lions. When he ate it, he realized that it wasn’t the corpses of ten lions, but it was actually the corpses of ten stone lions. Try to explain this matter.

Promova: Your Solution for Mastering Chinese

Although tongue twisters are a great way to master pronunciation, if your goal is reaching fluency, you also need to practice other language skills. The Promova application is your one-stop solution for mastering Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, French, German, and many other tongues. This handy app can bring you a lot of benefits.

  1. Exciting bite-sized learning. Our engaging, interactive lessons constructed by language professionals allow you to spend only a few minutes a day studying, still bringing significant results. There is no need to memorize tons of unnecessary information; you can learn only the things that matter.
  2. Convenience and mobility. The Promova application is available for iOS and Android devices. You can easily install it on your phone or laptop and enjoy studying anywhere and anytime you want.
  3. Comprehensive training. Each lesson within the application combines different exercises, allowing you to strengthen different skills essential for proficiency. Here, you will learn new vocabulary, master pronunciation, and practice reading, speaking, and listening.

Moreover, on the Promova website, you can access various guided courses for learning different languages. So whether you are a beginner or a fluent speaker, you can definitely find something new and useful. 

Conclusion

Tongue twisters are a great tool to practice pronunciation in any language. However, they might be even more beneficial for those aiming to study Chinese. This language is known for its complex pronunciation due to the amount of similar sounds and different tones. Such short and simple expressions allow you to comprehend the slightest distinctions, and rhyming patterns help to memorize the twister easily. We hope that with today’s article, you’ll find some new Chinese tongue twisters and have fun learning them!

FAQ

What are the benefits of learning Chinese tongue twisters?

Tongue twisters are designed to challenge your pronunciation skills by featuring similar-sounding or difficult-to-articulate words. Practicing them regularly can help improve your pronunciation of specific sounds and tones in Chinese, leading to clearer and more accurate speech. Also, they can introduce you to new vocabulary and expressions, thereby expanding your language proficiency.

How can I make the most out of tongue twisters?

There are many tips that can help you get the most benefits out of learning tongue twisters. Begin by saying the expression slowly and deliberately, focusing on pronouncing each word accurately. As you become more comfortable with the sounds and rhythm, gradually increase your speed. Some learners find it helpful to write down the tongue twister and use visual aids, such as pinyin or character guides.

Which tongue twister should I learn first?

It depends on several factors, from your current proficiency level to the final goal you want to achieve after learning the tongue twister. For example, if you’re just starting your path, consider short, beginner-friendly expressions. And if you are already familiar with the basics, choose tongue twisters that contain more complex sounds and tones.

Is it difficult to learn tongue twisters in Chinese?

Learning tongue twisters in Chinese can be challenging, especially for beginners who are still getting used to the tones and pronunciation of the language. However, with practice and dedication, it is definitely achievable. Start with simpler tongue twisters and gradually work your way up to more difficult ones as you become more confident in your language skills.

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