Say That 3 Times, Fast: Russian Tongue Twisters to Improve Your Pronunciation
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Say that three times fast!
Even native English speakers struggle to repeat Peter Piper without tripping over their words.
Many people think that tongue twisters are just silly kid games.
But before you dismiss tongue twisters as being too juvenile, consider the fact that King George VI used them to improve a stammering problem he had since birth. King George may be one of the most well-known examples of an individual using tongue twisters to improve his speaking ability, as shown in the movie, “The King’s Speech.”
If practicing tongue twisters works for politicians, actors and other public figures, why shouldn’t it work for you?
Russian tongue twisters can be just the boost you needed to improve your Russian pronunciation and speaking skills.
In this post, we’ve gathered 10 of our favorite Russian tongue twisters to give your language skills a workout.
What’s a Tongue Twister and How Can It Help You Learn Russian?
Tongue twisters don’t always make sense and often, they don’t reflect the way people commonly speak. However, they’re helpful tools in developing the muscle memory needed to position the lips and tongue to generate unfamiliar sounds. For instance, the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh Say Can You Say?” is considered one of the best resources available for speech therapy and developing articulation skills.
Any new Russian student knows that there are a number of challenges associated with learning the language, particularly given the fact that there are several letters that don’t exist in English.
Sounding like a native Russian speaker may be a lofty goal, but at the very least, it’s imperative that Russian learners master the pronunciation of those tricky sounds like Щ, Ы and Й to ensure they’re understood.
How to Use Russian Tongue Twisters in Your Studies
- Listen. Find relevant videos or recordings of tongue twisters and listen to them multiple times. It may be helpful to slow down the playback speed to ensure you hear each individual sound. If you can’t find a recording online, ask a native speaker to say the tongue twister for you multiple times at various speeds and record it on your phone so you can listen to it anywhere.
- Focus on each individual sound. Is there a syllable or letter that sounds strange to you? Are you unable to identify the difference between certain sounds? If so, listen to the sounds side by side or ask a native speaker to help you recognize the difference and refine the way you say them.
- Repeat. As you’ve probably heard many times, repetition is key when it comes to language learning. Tongue twisters are no different.
- Move your mouth. Have you ever been to the opera? You may have no idea what they’re singing about, but you know that opera singers are famous for opening their mouths wide. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Form your mouth into the appropriate shapes and the sounds will follow. Proper mouth positioning will allow you to articulate the sounds correctly, in turn ensuring that people better understand you.
- Speed it up. The Russian word for tongue twister is скороговорка. Скоро means fast or quickly, while говорить means to speak. As you become more comfortable with each tongue twister, aim to do the same: Speak faster each time.
10 Russian Tongue Twisters for Perfect Pronunciation and Super Speaking Skills
There are plenty of Russian tongue twisters out there to help you practice your pronunciation. Here are 10 of the most popular ones!
1. Карл у Клары украл кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет. Королева Клара кавалера Карла строго карала за кражу кораллов.
English translation: Karl stole corals from Klara, and Klara stole a clarinet from Karl. Queen Klara harshly punished the gentleman Karl for the theft of the corals.
This tongue twister tends to be a challenge because no matter how hard you try, you’ll probably mix up Klara and Karl.
One thing to keep in mind is that names don’t really change in English, other than adding -’s to show possession (Karl’s or Klara’s). However, in Russian, names change form according to gender and case. For instance, in this tongue twister, the first Карла is the genitive case of Karl, hence the clarinet was stolen from Karl (у Карла).
2. Мама мыла Милу мылом. Мила мыло не любила.
English translation: Mama washed Mila with soap. Mila did not love the soap.
There are 10 Russian vowels. But these 10 letters represent only six sounds: The vowel pairs representing the same sound are: А-Я, О-Ё, Э-Е, У-Ю, and Ы-И.
Note: There’s some disagreement as to whether Ы and И are actually the same sound (and therefore whether there are five or six vowels in total). In Russian schools, students are taught that they’re two different sounds, so we’re listing them here as such.
The first letter in each pair indicates that the preceding consonant is hard, while the second letter in each pair follows a soft consonant. Palatalization, the soft pronunciation of a consonant, is often difficult for English speakers. The Ы-И is particularly problematic for new Russian language learners, especially since there’s debate about whether the vowels represent different vowels at all.
Spend some time practicing this Russian tongue twister to really perfect your Ы and И.
3. Кукушка кукушонку сшила капюшон. Примерил кукушонок капюшон. Как в капюшоне он смешон!
English translation: The cuckoo made a hood for the little cuckoo. The little cuckoo tried on the hood. He looks so funny in the hood!
This tongue twister about a cuckoo is another opportunity for you to practice recognizing the difference between two vowels: У and Ю.
3. Хохлатые хохотушки хохотом хохотали: ха-ха-ха-ха!
English translation: Shaggy giggly women laughed out loud: ha-ha-ha-ha!
While the Russian X is similar in sound to the English H, the two sounds are made from different points in the throat. The English H is a glottal fricative, meaning it’s made at the back of the throat. The Russian X is a velar frictive, which is pronounced from the back of the tongue, similar to an English K.
In the video above, you can hear one character saying the Russian X closer to the English K and the other closer to the English H. The difference is subtle, so listen close!
5. Ехал Грека через реку, видит Грека—в реке рак. Сунул Грека руку в реку. Рак за руку Греку цап!
English translation: Greka was going over the river, Greka saw a lobster in the river. Greka put his hand in the water, the lobster snatched his hand!
Pronouncing the Russian P is often a challenge for learners. If you find it difficult to properly roll your Ps, Burupo has a diagram of the proper tongue positioning as well as some pronunciation exercises.
Once you feel a little more comfortable with the P sound, practice reciting the above tongue twister about Greka and the lobster in the river.
6. Шла Саша по шоссе, несла сушку на шесте и сосала сушку.
English translation: Sasha was walking on the road, carrying a pretzel on the pole and sucking on a pretzel.
One of the most challenging aspects of learning Russian is the set of four letters that represent hushing sounds: Ш, Ж, Ч and Щ. While English speakers typically find a way to pronounce these sounds, they struggle to differentiate between them.
The next few tongue twisters also involve those difficult hushing sounds.
7. Во лесу лозу вяжу. На возу лозу везу. Коза, лозу не лижи—Накажу!
English translation: In the forest, I knit the vines. On the cart, I carry the vines. Goat, do not lick the vines—I will punish (you)!
Although we couldn’t find a video/audio of this Russian tongue twister, we’re including it because, in addition to practicing your Ж hushing sound, this is a good tongue twister for taking note of prepositions. The prepositions B(O) and HA are generally not stressed as much as other words in normal speaking patterns.
Instead, they’re essentially pronounced as a prefix to the word that follows them, making it difficult for some learners to hear these prepositions when spoken. Pay special attention to these prepositions and you’ll be able to identify them more easily in conversations.
Have a native speaker friend or a Russian language exchange partner read this one out loud to you!
The final three tongue twisters will provide you with even more practice of the Ш, Ж, Ч and Щ sounds.
8. Два щенка щека к щеке щиплют щётку в уголке.
English translation: Two puppies cheek to cheek nibble a broom in the corner.
9. Четыре чёрненьких чумазеньких чертёнка чертили чёрными чернилами чертёж.
English translation: Four black, dirty little devils were drawing a blueprint in black ink.
Be sure to take note of the Ё sound when practicing this tongue twister.
Тише мыши, кот на крыше, а котята ещё выше.
English translation: Hush mice, the cat is on the roof, and the kittens are even higher.
This video lets you fill in the blanks in the tongue twister so you can practice it in time to the beat!
One of the most common things Russian language learners say in conversation is Повторите пожалуйста (Please repeat) because native Russians speak so quickly.
Spend some time practicing these Russian tongue twisters and soon, you’ll be more comfortable speaking, listening to and comprehending fast-paced speech.
Kelly Virginia Phelan is a Professor of Tourism in Australia who enjoys spending her free time studying Russian and Mandarin.