Trabalenguas: Let’s Practice Some Spanish Tongue Twisters!
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Trabalenguas: Let’s Practice Some Spanish Tongue Twisters!

In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the most fun tongue twisters in the Spanish language. The word for ‘tongue twister’ in Spanish is ‘trabalenguas,’ which comes from the verb ‘trabar’ (‘to get tangled up’) and the noun ‘lengua’ (‘tongue’)!

In this article, we’ve given you tongue twisters that you can use to practice particular sounds.

What is a tongue twister?

Tongue twisters are phrases that are supposed to be really tricky to pronounce. They often use one or two sounds repeatedly throughout the phrase. For example, ‘she sells seashells by the seashore.’

How can tongue twisters help your Spanish?

When learning a language, you’re often confronted by sounds that don’t exist in your native language, for example the rolled ‘r’ in Spanish, which we don’t use in English. Using tongue twisters is a great way to get your tongue around those sounds, and learn some new vocab in the process!

As you practice, think of your mouth as forming muscle memory. You may well have to bend your mouth and tongue into shapes that you didn’t think were possible, but just because you weren’t born in a Spanish-speaking country doesn’t mean you can’t make Spanish sounds.

Imagine if a Spanish couple gets pregnant and moves to Canada. When the baby starts to talk, it doesn’t flat out say, “sorry, I don’t speak Spanish, eh.” As long as Spanish is spoken in the home, the kid picks up the Spanish language and Spanish sounds from the parents.

Okay, so you’re not a Spanish baby in Canada, but that doesn’t take away your ability to listen and mimic. Start by pronouncing each sound and syllable as slowly and clearly as you can, and then start reciting whole tongue twisters. You’re aiming for speed, clarity, and fluidity!

Spanish Tongue Twister: A Sound

Pancha plancha con cuatro planchas. ¿Con cuántas planchas plancha Pancha?Pancha irons with four irons. With how many irons does Pancha iron?

Spanish Tongue Twister: E Sound

Esteban es escalador. Escala y escala. Esteban, el escalador: de tanto escalar, en una cima quedó. Esteban is a mountaineer. He climbs and he climbs. Esteban, the mountaineer: from so much climbing, he ended up on a peak.

Spanish Tongue Twister: I Sound

Pablito clavó un clavito en la calva de un calvito. En la calva de un calvito, un clavito clavó Pablito.Pablito hammered a little nail into the bald patch of a little bald man. Into the bald patch of a little bald man, a little nail did hammer Pablito.

Spanish Tongue Twister: O Sound

Un dragón tragón tragó carbón y el carbón que tragó el dragón tragón le hizo salir barrigón.A greedy dragon swallowed coal and the coal that the greedy dragon swallowed gave him a pot belly.

Spanish Tongue Twisters: U Sound

Una bruja tiene una brújula en una burbuja. Y con la aguja embrujada te embruja.A witch has a compass in a bubble. And with the enchanted needle she puts a spell on you.

Spanish Tongue Twisters: B/V Sounds

Both ‘b’ and ‘v’ are pronounced the same as each other. 

Hard sound: They sound almost like an English ‘b’ when:

  • At the start of an utterance.
  • After ‘m’ or ‘n.’

Soft sound: They sound almost like an English ‘v’ in all other cases.

In this tongue twister, all the ‘b’s and ‘v’s are pronounced the same, except the first ‘B,’ which is hard.

Beatriz tuvo un tubo, y el tubo que tuvo se le rompió. Para recuperar el tubo que tuvo, tuvo que comprar un tubo, igual al tubo que tuvo.Beatriz had a tube, and the tube that she had: it broke. To fix the tube that she had, she had to buy a tube the same as the tube she had.

Spanish Tongue Twisters: Ca/Co/Cu/Qu (‘k’ sound)

Cuando cuentas cuentos, cuenta cuántos cuentos cuentas. Porque si no cuentas cuántos cuentos cuentas, nunca sabrás cuántos cuentos cuentas.When you tell stories, count how many stories you tell. Because if you don’t count how many stories you tell, you’ll never know how many stories you tell.
¿Cómo quieres que te quiera si quien que quiero que me quiera no me quiere como quiero que me quiera?How do you want me to love you if the one I want to love me doesn’t love me the way I want them to?

Spanish Tongue Twisters: Ce/Ci/Z/S (‘th’ or ‘s’ sound)

How these letters are pronounced will depend on where you come from:

  • In most parts of Spain, ‘s’ is pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘see,’ but the consonants in ‘ce’ and ‘ci,’ and ‘z’ are usually pronounced like the ‘th’ in ‘birth.’
  • In most parts of Latin America, all of the above are pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘see.’
La sucesión sucesiva de sucesos sucede sucesivamente con la sucesión del tiempo.The successive succession of events occurs successively with the succession of time.
Si Sansón no sazona su salsa con sal, le sale sosa; le sale sosa su salsa a Sansón, si la sazona sin sal.If Sansón doesn’t season his sauce with salt, it turns out bland; Sansón’s sauce turns out bland if he seasons it without salt.
Un zapatero zambo zapateaba zapateados de zapata, zapateados de zapata zapateaba un zapatero zambo.A knock-kneed shoemaker tap-danced tap dances, tap dances did tap-dance a knock-kneed shoemaker.

Spanish Tongue Twister: Ch Sound

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.They said to me that you’ve said a saying, a saying that I said. That saying that they said to you that I said, I didn’t say it; and if I had said it, it would be very well said for having been said by me.

Spanish Tongue Twisters: Ge/Gi/J (throaty ‘h’ sound)

(Bear in mind that the ‘g’ in ‘ga,’ ‘go,’ and ‘gu’ is simply pronounced as a harder ‘g,’ almost like the ‘g’ in ‘gobsmacked.’)

De generación en generación, las generaciones se degeneran con mayor degeneración.From generation to generation, the generations degenerate with more degeneration.
Juan junta juncos junto a la zanja.Juan gathers reeds by the ditch.

Spanish Tongue Twister: M Sound

Mi mamá me mima mucho.My mom spoils me a lot.

Spanish Tongue Twister: Ñ (‘ny’ sound)

Ñoño Yáñez come ñame en las mañanas con el niño.Boring Yáñez eats yam in the mornings with the boy.

Spanish Tongue Twister: P Sound

Pepe Pecas pica papas con un pico, con un pico pica papas Pepe Pecas.Pepe Freckles chops taters with a pick, with a pick Pepe Freckles chops taters.

Spanish Tongue Twisters: R/Rr Sound

Can you roll your ‘r’s? You may not know this, but there are two types of ‘r’ sound in Spanish. Check out their posh names:

‘Voiced alveolar trill’: this is what we usually think of as that rolled ‘r.’ Use it for:

  • Words beginning with ‘r,’ e.g. ‘realmente.’
  • When there’s a double ‘r’ (‘rr’), e.g. ‘hierro.’
  • When there’s an ‘r’ directly after ‘l,’ ‘n,’ or ‘s,’ e.g. ‘alrededor,’ ‘honrado,’ ‘desregular.’

‘Voiced alveolar tap’: this isn’t a full-on roll, more of a quick tap of the tongue. It sounds a bit like the ‘dd’ sound when you say ‘ladder’ in most US accents. Use it for:

  • Single ‘r’ except in the situations we mentioned above.
Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril.‘R’ with ‘r’ ‘cigar,’ ‘r’ with ‘r’ ‘barrel.’ Quickly do the sugar-laden carriages run off the railroad.
Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal. Un tigre, dos tigres, tres tigres tragaban en un trigal. ¿Qué tigre tragaba más? Todos tragaban igual.Three sad tigers ate wheat in a wheat field. One tiger, two tigers, three tigers ate in a wheat field. Which tiger ate most? They all ate the same amount.

Spanish Tongue Twister: Y/Ll

As we mentioned earlier, different letters are pronounced in different ways depending on where a speaker is from. But it’s also influenced by the age of a speaker, because of the way languages change over time! 

For example, a young woman from Madrid would probably pronounce ‘y’ and ‘ll’ exactly the same, whereas her grandmother would say them slightly differently, because that’s how she learned it when she was growing up.
Hoy ya es ayer y ayer ya es hoy. Ya llegó el día, y hoy es hoy.Today is already yesterday and yesterday is already today. The day has already arrived, and today is today.

Top tip: when ‘y’ stands alone meaning ‘and,’ it’s pronounced like ‘ee.’

Great job getting through those!

Trabalenguas are a fantastic learning tool, so please have fun with them, and use the comments section to let us know how you got on!

About the Author Annabel Beilby

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

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