Tongue Twisters for Native Chinese Speakers: Short A, Long A

In my last post on tongue twisters for native Chinese speakers, we looked at consonants. Today, we’ll look at vowels for native Chinese speakers. Specifically, we’ll look at the short “A” sound (cat, fan, apple) and the long “A” sound (skate, mane, able).

The difference between short “A” and long “A”

Native Mandarin speakers often struggle with these two vowel sounds. Chinese ESL learners tend to say the long “A” as if it were a short A. With this mistake, “Kate” sounds like “cat,” “lane” sounds kind of like “land,” and so on.

Vowels are the centers of words– literally. And these two “A” sounds are some of the most common vowel sounds in English. So mastering the long and short “A” are an important part of mastering English as a whole. And mistakes with the two “A” sounds can make a speaker very hard to understand.

The difference between short “A” and long “A”

Before you practice saying these sounds with some tongue twisters, take some time to really listen to these sounds. Below are audio for the very similar words “hat” and “hate.” Let’s see if you can hear the difference:

HAT (short “a”)


HATE (long “a”)


If you’re still not sure about the difference, listen to both words again, spoken at a slower pace:



That recording probably worked for most of you reading this. But if you still have doubts, listen to these two words one more time. This time I’ll say them really slowly, exaggerating the vowel sounds:

HAT/HATE (slowly)

You definitely heard the difference that time, right? Now you’re ready to practice saying these sounds.

Tongue Twisters with short “A” and long “A”

Let’s start out with some minimal pairs— sets of words that are very similar, but with the different “A” sounds. Read each word list aloud. To make sure you’re pronouncing the long and short A sounds distinctly, listen to a model recording after each minimal pair list.

Now we’re ready for some proper tongue twisters, ones that put these sounds into complete sentences. Again, each tongue twister comes with a model recording that can guide your pronunciation.

The takeaway

While the English short “A” and long “A” are hard for Chinese ESL students, vowels are hard for everyone who is studying a second language. So as you practice these, don’t get discouraged. Many English learners form around the world have learned to master short and long vowels, and you can too.

The rewards for learning these sounds are are great— your English will become much easier to understand, and you’ll score well on the TOEFL.

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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