Even though tongue twisters are a great to bring out your inner child, you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy the benefits. In fact, the pros of tongue twisters—or trabalenguas—cannot be overstated if you are a language learner:
What more could you ask for? If you are a complete beginner to Spanish, I can guarantee that if you do tongue twisters you won’t make many of the pronunciation mistakes common amongst language learners. For intermediate to advanced speakers who have made strides in their Spanish journey, pronunciation is probably the one thing that is holding you back. Tongue twisters are for you! The goal of tongue twisters is precision followed by speed. Start slow but over enunciate. As you gain confidence, speed it up. It’s time you stop confusing the r and the r (erre), the v and the b (same sound!). What follows is my compiled list of the best trabalenguas. It outlines the sounds you will be practicing and the translation of each tongue twister. If the translation sounds odd, please do not blame the translator (me!). They are just as strange, if not stranger, in Spanish. But that’s the fun of it! Enjoy!
Remember that there is no different between the b and v sounds in Spanish.
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 a little bald man’s head. On the little bald man’s head, little Pablo hit a nail.
The c follows the same rules as in English (ca, co, cu are pronounced as “hard” c’s, while ce and ci are more like an s. In Spain, the ce, ci, and z are also pronounced like an English th. Please note that in the following tongue twister, the verb encancaranublar and and the noun encancaranublador are used. These words do not exist in Spanish. I’ve translated the verb as “darken.”
El cielo está encancaranublado, ¿Quien lo encancaranublaría? El que lo encancaranubló, buen encancaranublador sería — The sky has darkened. Who darkened it? The one who did it must be good at it.
Note that Spanish does not have an sh sound.
Pancha plancha con cuatro planchas. ¿Con cuantas planchas Pancha plancha? — Pancha irons with four irons. With how many irons does Pancha iron?
Chiquito chanchito cochinito, echado en la charca está, ¡ah! Qué chiquito chanchito cochinito que cochinito está — Little filthy pig, he’s lying in the pond. Ah! What a little filthy pig he is.
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. I eat little coconut like I buy little coconut.
¿Cuantos cuentos cuentas cuando cuentas cuentos? — How many stories do you tell when you tell stories?
Con un cuchillo de acero te descorazonaré, el que te descorazona descorazonador será — I will dishearten you with a steel knife. Those who dishearten, disheartening will be.
Me han dicho que has dicho un dicho, un dicho que he dicho yo. Ese dicho que te han dicho que yo he dicho, no lo he dicho; y si yo lo hubiera dicho, estaría muy bien dicho por haberlo dicho yo — I’ve been told you said a saying, a saying that I said. That saying that they told you that I’ve said, I haven’t said it; and if I had said it, it’d be well said because I said it.
Talk about humility! 😉
Poquito a poquito Paquito empaca poquitas copitas en pocos paquetes — Little by little, Paquito packs the little glasses in small packages.
Pepe Peña pela papa, pica piña, pita un pito, pica piña, pela papa, Pepe Peña — Pepe Peña peels potatoes, chops up a pineapple, blows a whistle, chops up a pineapple, peels potatoes, Pepe Peña.
Si la sierva que te sirve, no te sirve como sierva, de qué sirve que te sirvas de una sierva que no sirve — If the servant who serves does not serve you as servant, what’s the point of having a servant who doesn’t serve you.
Un tubo tiró un tubo y otro tubo lo detuvo. Hay tubos que tienen tubos pero este tubo no tuvo tubo — A tube pulled a tube and another tube stopped it. There are tubes that have tubes, but this tube did not have a tube.
This is one of the most famous Spanish tongue twisters.
Tres tristes tigres triscaban trigo en un trigal. Un tigre, dos tigres, tres tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal. ¿Cuál tigre trigaba mas? Todos triscaban igual — Three sad tigers swallowed wheat in a wheat field. One tiger, two tigers, three tigers were swallowed wheat in a wheat field. Which tiger swallowed more? They all swallowed the same.
Si don Curro ahorra ahora, ahora ahorra don Curro — If Mr. Curro saves now, now saves Mr. Curro.
Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril — R and r cigarro. R and r barrel. The railroad cars full of sugar run fast.
La ñapa is the extra bit. I promised 15, but let’s go for a 16th, right?
El vino vino, pero el vino no vino vino. El vino vino vinagre — The wine came, but the wine did not come as wine. The wine came as vinegar.
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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