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Chinese Tongue Twisters For Beginners

Jinna Wang | April 07, 2016 | | 2 Comments
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If your children attends school in an English-speaking country, they are undoubtedly familiar with these sayings:

“She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

Or, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

These phrases are popular tongue twisters, which are a series of words or sounds that are difficult to pronounce quickly and correctly. As the speaker attempts each phrase, he or she will be juggling rapidly changing consonants, shifting tongue positions, and different shapes of the mouth. Quite a fun challenge in verbal aerobics indeed!

Mandarin Chinese also offers a plethora of exciting tongue twisters. Plus, tongue twisters in Chinese include the additional challenge of navigating the four tones. Not only are these Chinese tongue twisters beneficial for adult Mandarin learners who want to practice enunciation, they are even more helpful for young children who may be in the beginning stages of studying Chinese.

Benefits of Tongue Twisters for Mandarin Chinese Learners:
Cultivating Interest (especially in children!)
Even though Chinese is one of the most useful skills that children can develop from a young age, it may be quite a challenge to get your kids to love learning Chinese. Learning the four tones usually proves to be frustrating for those who have little experience with the concept. By teaching your tongue twisters, you can change rout memorization and repetition into a fun competition. Children can try to perfect their pronunciation and try to say the tongue twister in less time each time, beating their own record again and again.
Building the Basics of Mandarin Pronunciation

In order to speak Chinese with a native accent, students have to ensure they are always using proper inflection and training their muscles to create sounds that are not used in English. Tongue twisters will teach beginner speakers to communicate with firm, clear enunciation, creating the foundation for natural-sounding speech as they continue to develop their Chinese language abilities. Tongue twisters can also help you target specific sounds that may be difficult for your child. For example, if you or your student tends to mix up the “s” or “sh” consonants, the first tongue twister we provide below would be fantastic practice.

How to Teach Tongue Twisters to Your Children:

Even for native-born Mandarin Chinese speakers, tongue twisters present quite a challenge. So when teaching a new tongue twister to your children, start slowly and enunciate every word as to pass on the correct pronunciation.

You may want to speak the sentence one syllable at a time, and have your children repeat back after each syllable to ensure they have the correct pronunciation and tone. After the first few times, you can then challenge your children to memorize the tongue twister and try to increase the speed. This is where the fun begins! You can bring in a stopwatch and engage your children in a friendly competition to see who can complete the tongue twister fastest while still pronouncing every word correctly. 

Popular Chinese Tongue Twisters
Level 1:

Chinese: 四 是 四 , 十 是 十 , 十 四 是 十 四 , 四 十 是 四 十

Pin Yin: 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. 

Level 2: (A little more challenging)

Chinese: 吃 葡 萄 不 吐 葡 萄 皮 ,不 吃 葡 萄 倒 吐 葡 萄 皮 。

Pin Yin: Chī pú táo bù tǔ pú táo pí, bù chī pú táo dào tǔ pú táo pí

Meaning: Eat grape but do not spit out grape skin, do not eat grape but spit out grape skin.

(As you can see, the meaning of this tongue twister is pretty nonsensical, but it is okay since this sentence was designed purely as a pronunciation challenge.)

Level 3: (Expert-level)

Chinese: 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?

Pin Yin: 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 zhīdào bù zhīdào?

Meaning: If you know say you know, if you don’t know say you don’t know, don’t say you know when you don’t know, and don’t not know and say you know, do you know?

Give these a try! Let us know how fast you can say these tongue twisters.

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Jinna Wang

Jinna Wang

Jinna Wang is a contributing writer for TutorMing. She grew up in the city of Harbin in northern China, and attended college at NYU where she majored in Finance and Management. In her spare time, Jinna likes to travel, eat, and write about both.

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