China – Under The Hood: Chinese tongue twisters

I‘m not the only person in China who finds the Chinese language mystifying. So do millions and millions of Chinese people. Since many words sound the same or confusingly similar, it is quite common to see people make considerable efforts explaining to others, they’ve only met, the meaning of a Chinese character, such as that contained in a surname.

For instance, during a telephone conversation you might hear someone introduce herself as “I am Ms. Xu, that’s the ‘Xu bu’  (walk slowly) ‘Xu’ and not the ‘Xu duo’ (a lot of) ‘Xu’“. Without such a clarification it can be quite difficult using sound alone to clearly understand someone’s meaning.

And if your find all that bewildering then here’s a real tongue-twister that is perfect as a hangover cure (and which makes our English language “she sells seashells…” and “betty bought a bit of butter..” sequences absolutely painless).

Try reading the following (according to its pitch/tone) after a night on the town:






















Which translated apparently means “a poet called Shi who lived in a stone house and became addicted to eating lions. He went in search of them and found ten in a market, but realized that they were all dead when he got home“. The last four “shi” encourage the reader to check the translation for him/herself.


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