Tongue twisters are just for kids, right?
Wrong. Tongue twisters, or trabalenguas, are an excellent tool to improve your Spanish pronunciation.
Your pronunciation may be the only thing stopping you from being totally understood.
For example, if you find people tilt their head sideways and look at you funny when you say certain words, such as “perro” or “pero,” you could definitely benefit from practicing the “rr” sound.
Repeating tongue twisters over and over again can also help speed up your speech and improve your overall fluency.
So let’s get started on twisting your tongue around some trabalenguas.
Why Learn Spanish Tongue Twisters?
Tongue twisters are often used by speech therapists to help young children produce sounds in Spanish.
The most common sound problem Spanish children have is that they can’t pronounce the “rr” sound. Not surprisingly, this is a common issue for those learning Spanish too. Seeing as you already felt like a little kid when you were learning the Spanish alphabet, you may as well jump on board the tongue twisting train and teach your mouth to produce sounds it isn’t used to making.
Tongue twisters can also improve memory and focus, as repeating them over and over again aids your concentration and focuses your brain on a single task.
Beside the benefits to your Spanish, reciting a trabalengua is a fun party trick bound to impress your new Spanish speaking friends, not to mention your English speaking ones. Tongue twisters can fill a gap in conversation, provide plenty of giggles during a conversation exchange and could even be passed on to new amigos.
Best of all, tongue twisters are good for a laugh. They’re a fun way to practice your pronunciation without boring yourself silly repeating single sounds out of context.
How to Improve Your Pronunciation Through Spanish Tongue Twisters
Like any stage of language learning, it’s best to start easy and work your way up to the more difficult stuff. That’s exactly how we’re going to progress through this list of tongue twisters: easiest to hardest.
Easy Tongue Twisters to Get You Started
The simplest tongue twister is probably:
1. Tres tristes tigres – three sad tigers.
Sound easy? Try repeating it over and over again. If you’re having trouble getting your mouth around it, try practicing “tre“, “tri” and “re” on their own before adding the other sounds to make the sentence.
Once you can say that the tigers are sad without too bursting into tears yourself, make things more complex by setting the scene for your tigers further.
Tres tristes tigres tragan trigo en un trigal.
Three sad tigers swallow wheat in a wheat field.
Tres tristes tigres triscaban trigo en un trigal.
Un tigre, dos tigres, tres tigres
trigaban en un trigal.
¿Cúal tigre trigaba más?
Todos trigaban igual.
Three sad tigres swallowed wheat in a wheat field.
One tiger, two tiger, three tigers
swallowed in a wheat field.
Which tigre swallowed more?
They all swallowed the same.
Again, if you’re having trouble, practice the sounds on their own before saying the whole thing.
So, for the second version of “tres tristes tigres” you could practice saying “tre, tri, re, tra, tri, tri” until you can say the sounds quickly, and then try the whole sentence.
Once you’ve got the hang of that, try repeating the trabalengua faster and faster to see how quickly you can say it without tripping over the words.
Another simple tongue twister is:
2. Pablito clavó un clavito — little Pablo hit a little nail
This one helps practice the diminutive sound “ito” and is a nice little story, though it’s best not to dwell on why little Pablito is allowed near a hammer.
Pablito clavó un clavito
¿qué clavito clavó Pablito?
Little Pablo hit a little nail,
Which little nail did little Pablo hit?
Like “tres tristes tigres,” there are several variations on this tongue twister. One even adds a bald man into the mix. Yes, you read that correctly.
Pablito clavó un clavito en la cabeza de un calvito.
En la cabeza de un calvito un clavo clavó Pablito.
Little Pablo hit a little nail on the head of a little bald man.
On the head of the little bald man, little Pablo hit a nail.
We never do find out what happened to the little bald man, or to Pablito, so there’s no guarantee that no one was harmed in the making of this tongue twister.
3. El vino vino — the wine came
Another simple tongue twister concerns “vino” (wine), and plays on the fact that “vino” can also mean “came,” the past of “venir” (to come). Both types of vino are pronounced the same, meaning this can be a tricky one to remember, even if it looks simple.
El vino vino, pero el vino no vino vino.
El vino vino vinagre.
The wine came, but the wine wasn’t wine.
The wine came vinegary.
This practices the “v“ sound, which is the same as the “b” sound in Spanish. What does this mean for you, language learner? That you’re in luck.
This tongue twister allows you to practice two sounds in one without any extra effort.
More Difficult Tongue Twisters
To step it up a notch, twist your tongue around these:
4. Rápido corren los carros — the cars go quickly
This is designed to practice the “rr” sound, which is written here as “erre“. Make sure that you’re really pronouncing the “rr” and not just the “r” sound as you say this tongue twister. If you can’t tell the difference, try saying two words, one with “r” and one with “rr” one after the other.
Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril.
Rápido corren los carros, cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril.
R with r cigarette, r with r barrel.
The carts go quickly, laden with sugar from the train.
You could switch between “coro” (choir) and “corro” (I run) for example. Record yourself saying the words and then play it all back to see if you can tell the difference.
Another tongue twister concerns the important issue of buying coconuts:
6. Compadre, cómprame un coco — buddy, buy me a coconut
This fun rhyme practices the “co” sound in various forms, often adding the “m” to make “com“, which is pronounced exactly as it looks — with a long “o” sound.
Compadre, cómprame un coco.
Compadre, coco no compro, porque el que poco coco come, poco coco compra.
Yo como poco coco como poco coco compro.
Buddy, buy me a coconut.
Buddy, I don’t buy coconut, because those who eat little coconut, buy little coconut.
As I eat little coconut, I buy little coconut.
The Really Tricky Tongue Twisters
Once you’ve mastered the above, you’re ready for the biggest challenge of all. Even some native Spanish speakers might find it hard to say these tongue twisters.
7. El parangaricutirimicuarano — the man from Parangaricutiro
Don’t understand what it’s talking about? Don’t worry, nor does anyone else – it’s pure nonsense, allegedly derived from the name of an old Mexican town and what the residents called themselves. T
Un parangaricutirimicuarano quería parangaricutirimicuarar, y el que parangaricutirimicuare será un parangaricutirimicuarizador.
To attempt to produce this trabalenguas, break it down and practice the parts of the words on their own before joining them together.
Start by repeating:
Then practice the different endings:
This last exercise is good practice for general word endings in Spanish, as is the tongue twister as a whole, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
For a final, super duper practice of that “r” sound, try this one:
8. Tras el triple trapecio de Trípoli — through the triple trapezium of Tripoli
There’s a good chance that, with this one, you won’t be able to make neither head nor tail of either the Spanish or English version?
Tras el triple trapecio de Trípoli trepaban trigonométricamente
tres tristes triunviros trogloditas trastocados y traspuestos por el tremendo tretralcatrapense.
Through the triple trapezium of Tripoli, three sad troglodytes triumvirate climbed trigonometrically, changed and dazed by the tremendous tretralcatrapense.
Just concentrate on working out those sounds. As always, if you can’t do it straight away, break the tongue twister down into smaller parts and then join them together. You could also start at the end of the tongue twister, practicing saying: tretralcatrapense, then tremendo tretralcatrapense, for example. You can then slowly add the rest of the words until you arrive at the beginning of your trabalengua, hopefully with your tongue still in tact.
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