According to the TopTens website, Spanish is one of the most beautiful spoken languages in the world. It's easy to understand why so many want to learn Spanish. The constant mixture of soft consonants and longer vowels along with the trilling of the tongue makes for a velvety, melodic and passionate language that many want to learn.
But before you can run, you must learn how to walk and learning a new language is no different. When you learn to speak Spanish, it feels like there are a thousand obstacles to overcome. There are letters to learn, sounds to practice, words to stumble over, numbers to count, verbs to use and tenses to build upon. Somehow, you have to make sense of it all so you can learn to speak Spanish with some sort of fluency. You also have to make sure that your pronunciation is on point and that you are actually saying the words correctly; otherwise, no one will understand you. So, why not practice your Spanish pronunciation with trabalenguas?
What Are Trabalenguas?
Trabalenguas are Spanish phrases that are difficult to pronounce correctly when spoken quickly. These phrases often use alliteration (words that start with the same consonants) or words with similar sounds.
For example, try saying the following trabalengua:
Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal en tres tristes trastos. En tres tristes trastos tragaban trigo tres tristes tigres
Translation: Three sad tigers swallowed wheat in a wheatfield in three sad useless things. In three sad useless things swallowed three sad tigers.
What a mouthful!
In English, we know these types of phrases as tongue twisters. They may be used in a playful setting, such as kids reciting them for fun in the playground during recess, or used by others as warm up exercises to loosen up the mouth muscles before giving a presentation of some kind. In either case, tongue twisters are meant to be fun. But how do they tie into language learning and how can tongue twisters improve your Spanish pronunciation and help you learn to speak Spanish?
3 Benefits of Using Tongue Twisters to Learn Spanish
As we age, we become more accustomed to the sounds and words in our native tongue. For children, one of the reasons why they can learn languages easier is because their minds form neural connections very quickly. Since their brains adapt more easily, they may pick up a second language like a native speaker. But just because a child's mind absorbs information more easily, doesn't mean that an adult's can't as well. It just takes a little more time and practice. One of the best ways for an adult to learn Spanish is to practice tongue twisters as they have three benefits:
They help stretch and strengthen the muscles of speech. We never give it much thought, but there are a ton of muscles in our mouths that aid in speech. In regard to how we all learned our native tongue, we babbled a lot as babies and probably moved our mouths in strange ways. Why? Because we needed to get familiar with the sounds associated with our native tongue. Then as we grew older, learned more words and became more comfortable with the sounds, we paid less attention to how our mouths moved when we spoke because our mouth muscles grew accustomed to the sounds and words in our native tongue. This idea is just as true when you learn to speak Spanish. As adults, we may not babble like a baby, but we can use tongue twisters to help our mouth muscles get used to the sounds in the Spanish, which will improve the way we learn to pronounce words in Spanish and help us learn the language faster.
Tongue twisters can show us which sounds are more difficult for us to pronounce. Because tongue twisters usually take alliterative form or use words with similar sounds, they can get pretty tricky, especially if you say them fast. Take the following Spanish tongue twister for example:
Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros, cargados de azucar al ferrocarril.
Translation: R with R cigar, R with R barrel. Rapidly run the cars, loaded of sugar to the railway.
This tongue twister emphasizes the doble erre "rr" sound, which is often a challenging one for foreign speakers. However, if a Spanish learner practices this tongue twister, or other phrases that emphasize the doble erre, over and over, then the muscles in their mouths will eventually become accustomed to this new sound.
- They are fun to say! Why not have some fun when you learn to speak Spanish? It’s inevitable that when you learn a new language, you’re going to make mistakes. Instead of getting discouraged, laugh it off and keep trying. Every time you practice, you will improve.
10 Trabalenguas to Get Your Tongue Rolling
Here are 10 Spanish tongue twisters and their rough translations to help you get your Spanish flowing.
For the erre "r" and doble erre "rr" sounds:
- Rosa Rizo reza en ruso, en ruso reza Rosa Rizo.
Translation: Curly Rose prays in Russian, in Russian prays Curly Rose
- Si don Curro ahorra ahora, ahora ahorra don Curro.
Translation: If Mr. Curro saves now, now saves Mr. Curro.
For the "pe" sound:
- Pepe pecas pica papas con un pico, con un pico pica papas pepe pecas.
Translation: Peter Freckles chops potatoes with a pick, with a pick chops potatoes Peter Freckles.
For the doble ele "ll" sound:
- El cielo esta enladrillado, ¿quién lo desenladrillarà? El desenladrillador que lo desenladrillare buen desenladrillador serà.
Translation: The sky is bricked, who will un-brick it? The screwdriver that will unscrew it will be a good screwdriver.
For the "j" sound:
- Jaime baja la jaula.
Translation: Jaime lowers the cage.
For the "ñ" sound:
- Ñoño Yàñez come ñames en las mañanas con el niño.
Translation: Ñoño Yàñez eats yams in the mornings with the boy.
For the "Ch" sound:
- Chiquito chanchito cochinito, echado en la charca está, ¡ah! qué chiquito chanchito cochinito que cochinito está.
Translation: Little piglet piglet, lying in the pond he is. Ah! What a little pigglet pigglet that little pigglet is.
For the soft "g" sound:
- De generación en generación las generaciones se degeneran con mayor degeneración.
Translation: From generation to generation the generations degenerate with greater degeneration.
For the "h" sound:
- Hoy ya es ayer y ayer ya es hoy, ya llegó el día, y hoy es hoy.
Translation: Today is already yesterday and yesterday is already today, the day has already ready arrived, and today is today.
For "cua" and "cue" sounds:
- Cuando cuentes cuentos, cuenta cuantos cuentos cuentas, cuando cuentes cuentos.
Translation: When you tell stories, tell how many stories you tell, when you tell stories.
5 Tips on How to Practice Your Spanish Pronunciation With Trabalenguas:
Practicing tongue twisters in any language can be tough. Here are five tips to remember as you practice your Spanish pronunciation with tongue twisters.
Warm up your mouth. Just like when you warm up the muscles of your body before working out at the gym, you should start with some warm up exercises for your mouth as well. Open and close it, and stretch it and scrunch it multiple times to get the muscles moving.
Start slow. Remember, you have to walk first before you can run. Tongue twisters are supposed to be tricky. To begin, start with some short or simple trabalenguas to build your confidence. First read the Spanish tongue twister. Next, say it out loud slowly, making sure you’re taking your time in pronouncing each sound. You may not say the tongue twister correctly the first time. When you’re done, repeat the trabalengua again, but a bit faster than the first time. Repeat this process multiple times. As you practice your Spanish pronunciation, make notes on which sounds are trickier for you. Once you’ve mastered the short and simple trabalenguas, you may be ready for some more difficult ones.
Stay calm. Don’t be upset if you get tongue-tied over the trabalengua. Simply stop, laugh a little and try again. You are training your mouth muscles to move accordingly, so expect to make some mistakes.
Get help. When you learn another language, it's often a good idea to practice with a native speaker. Speechling offers one-on-one tutoring with native Spanish speakers, so if there are still some challenging sounds that you need to practice more, a Spanish Speechling coach can help!
Practice one trabalengua every day. Learning to speak Spanish takes time, energy and determination. Start or end your day by reciting a new trabalengua. Even if it's just five minutes a day, every time you practice, you'll get closer to your Spanish speaking goals!
At the end of the day, learning Spanish should be fun and tongue twisters are a fun way to practice Spanish pronunciation. You’ll find that the more you practice, the more you’ll improve and the more confidence you’ll have speaking in Spanish. Give it a go and see what happens!