European Tongue Twisters

It’s hard to explain why I like Europe so much”.

Broderick Crawford.

This is maybe unexpected, but the following list of most famous Tongue Twisters will teach you a lot on European culture and history. In some countries, as in Italy or England, the tongue twisters are based on historical events, and this is quite impressive. In other countries as in Czech Republic or Estonia, they are just really funny. And naturally for the majority of them, they are unpronounceable! This is one of those little things that may explain, as mention by Broderick Crawford, why I like Europe so much!

Portugal

“O Rato roeu a roupa do Rei de Rússia e a Rainha, raivosa, rasgou o resto”

Do you know why there is no Russian King anymore? This Portuguese ‘trava-línguas’ based on the sound [ʁ] just confirms that they were actually mistreated. Why? Because “the rat nibbled the clothes of the Russian King, and the angry Queen tore the rest”

Spain

Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal.”

In Spain, “three sad tigers swallowed wheat on a wheat field”. If the presence of tigers in Spain is to be investigated, this renowned Spanish ‘trabalengua’ offers nevertheless the opportunity to practice the differentiation between the sounds [tr], [g] and [s].

France

“Les chaussettes de l’archi-duchesse, sont-elles sèches, archi-sèches ?

The French most famous ‘virelangue’ is a mix between socks and aristocracy, the whole considered as an exercise on the sounds [s] and [ʃ]. Translated in English, it means “The socks of the archduchess are they dry? Extra dry?”.

Iceland

“Það fer nú að verða verra ferðaveðrið

You had difficulties to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano? Just try this Icelandic tongue twister which deals with bad weather too. In English, it would signify “It is getting worse, the travelling weather”.

Ireland

Ná bac le mac an bhacaigh agus ní bhacaigh mac an bhacaigh leat

In Ireland, it is strictly recommended not to “bother the beggar’s son and the beggar’s son won’t bother you”. You won’t say you were not informed properly.

United Kingdom

She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore. The shells she sells are sea-shells, I’m sure. For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore. Then I’m sure she sells sea-shore shells.”

One of the most famous English tongue-twister with the sounds [s] and [ʃ] was inspired by the life of Mary Anning, a British fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist during the 19th century. In 1908, Terry Sullivan wrote a song integrating this tongue-twister in the lyrics.

Norway

Ibsens ripsbusker og andre buskvekster“

Norwegians tend to be good gardeners, and “Ibsen’s redcurrant bushes and other shrubs” seem to be appreciated. This ‘tungekrøll’ is an exercise on the pronunciation of [Bʉ] and [s].

Sweden

Sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor

Sweden is a nation of fishermen. It is then quite logical that its ‘Tungvrickare’ would be a story about “Seven seasick seamen [who] were cared for by seven beautiful nurses”.

Finland

Vesihiisi sihisi hississä

The trolls are everywhere in Nordic countries and especially in Finnland where they have their own ‘Sanahirviö’ meaning “A water troll was hissing in the elevator”.

Denmark

Rød grød med fløde

The “red porridge with cream” is a Danish dessert similar to a pudding made of groat and a not less famous Danish tongue twister. You have difficulties to read it? No problem, the phonetics will certainly help you: [ˈʁœðˀgʁœðˀ] (or not)

Netherlands

Kapper Knap, de knappe kapper, knipt en kapt heel knap, maar de knecht van kapper Knap, de knappe kapper, knipt en kapt nog knapper dan kapper Knap, de knappe kapper

One of the most famous Dutch ‘tongbreker‘ deals with handsome barber. It is much easier to read it in English: “The handsome barber cuts hair well, but the handsome helper of the handsome barber cuts hair more handsomely than the handsome barber can cut it.”

Belgium

Des bounès holès molès wåfes

Belgian official languages are Dutch, French and German. But there are also regional languages such as Walloon which offers the opportunity to discover famous ‘Toitche-linwe’.

Luxemburg

Wann aeren Decken eisen Decken nach eng Keier Decke vernennt, vernennt eisen Decken aeren decken esou laang Decke bis aeren Decken eisen Decken net mei decke vernennt.“

The long ‘Zungenbrecher’ from Luxembourg is quite funny. It means “If your fat man calls our fat man “fat man” one more time, then our fat man will call your fat man “fat man” until your fat man doesn’t call our fat man “fat man” any more.

Germany

Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.“

The German prominent ‘Zungenbrecher’ could also be a Tongue-Twister in English: “Fisher’s Fritz fishes fresh fish, fresh fish are fished by fisher’s Fritz.

Switzerland

De Paapscht hät z’Schpiez s’Schpäckschpickpschteck z’schpaat pschtellt.“

The Swiss German ‘Zugenbrecher’ is about the Pope, who may be known for his appetite. Indeed, “in Spiez, the Pope ordered his cutlery too late

Italy

Trentatré trentini entrarono a Trento, tutti e trentatré trotterellando di tratto in tratto“.

In English “Thirty-three Trentine people came into Trento, all the thirty-three trotting along”. One of the most famous Italian ‘scioglilingua’ has a historical value, as Trentine people entered the city of Trento in 1919 after the First World War. In reality the number was greater than 33 but it still points out that it was an operation conducted by a few people.

Malta

Dari rari tara lira, tara lira, tara re

In Malta, the ‘Tagħwiġ l-Ilsien’ is about the Maltese old currency, the Lira and the cupidity of Kings: “In days gone by you rarely saw a Lira when you see a Lira you see a King”.

Austria

Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid”.

Austrian ‘Zugenbrecher’ remains quite traditional as it fits in the overall long-established gastronomy and folklore. “Red cabbage stays red cabbage and bridal dress stays a bridal dress.”

Czech Republic

Strč prst skrz krk

The Czech ‘Jazykolam’ meaning “stick your finger through your throat“, is well known for its total absence of vowels. Czech Republic people sometimes used this Tongue-Twister to judge whether or not a particular person is drunk.

Slovakia

V našej peci myši pištia, v našej peci psík spí.”

Slovak children often exercise their pronunciation on this ‘Jazykolamy’ translated in English as “In our oven mice squeak, in our oven a dog sleeps”.

Hungary

Fekete bikapata kopog a patika pepita köveken.”

In Hungary, children tend to play with the correct pronunciation of the sentence meaning “Black bull hooves knocking on the black and white checked floortiles of a pharmacy”, which is maybe the most famous Hungarian Nyelvtörő.

Poland

W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie

Many native Polish speakers are not able to read perfectly the poem Chrząszcz by Jan Brzechwa. The first sentence of this poem, meaning “in Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed” is a famous Polish ‘Łamaniec językowy’. Try with the phonetics! [fʃt͡ʃɛbʒɛˈʃɨɲɛ ˈxʃɔ̃w̃ʃt͡ʃ ˈbʒmi ˈftʃt͡ɕiɲɛ]

Lithuania

Šešios žąsys su šešiais žąsyčiais.”

The Lithuanian ‘Greitakalbė’ is a test to pronounce the differences between the sounds [s] and [ʃ]. It means “Six geese with six goslings”.

Latvia

Dzīvē dzīvo dzīvu dzīvi! Dzīvam dzīvē dzīva dzīve.”

Latvian people tend to be very joyful, such as in their ‘ātrruna’, translated in English as following: “In your life live a lively life! A lively person lives a lively life”.

Estonia

Kuuuurija istus töööös jääääres

Estonian ‘Keelemäng’ looks as if somebody has fallen asleep on his keyboard. There is actually no mistake in this. It’s just that Estonian words contain many vowels. It means “The moon-scientist sat in a working night at the edge of the ice

Belarus

Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку

In the Latin Alphabet, this Belarusian and Russian ‘скороговорки’ would be written as following “Shla Sasha po shosse i sosala sushku”. It means “Sasha walked down the highway and sucked on a dry cracker”.

Ukraine

Бавились в брудній баюрі два бобри брунатно-бурі. – “Правда добре, друже бобре?”- “Дуже добре, брате бобре!””

Ukraine introduce us a whole dialogue for its ‘Скоромовка’. In English, “Two grey-brown beavers were fooling in a mudhole. “Isn’t it good, my friend?” – “Very good, my brother!“”

Moldova

Ştiu că ştiu că ştiuca-i ştiucă şi mai ştiu că ştiuca-i peşte”.

The Moldovan ‘Frântură de limbă’ is in Romanian and is a play on the word ştiucă which has two significations: “I know that I know that pike is a pike and I also know that pike is a fish”.

Romania

Capra calcă piatra/piatra crapă-n patru/crăpa-i-ar capul caprei/cum a crăpat capra piatra-n patru

There are many Romanian ‘Frântură de limbă’ on goats, but this one, which takes the form of a rhyme may be the most famous in Romania. It signifies “The goat stepped on the rock/the rock broke in four/may the goat’s head break in four/as the goat broke the rock in four”.

Slovenia

Klobuk pod klopco.

A hat under a bench” This is the Slovenian ‘Tornado jezik’. It looks easy, but it is quite difficult to pronounce if you are a non-native speaker.

Croatia

Petar Petru plete petlju

In Croatia, the ‘Jezikolomci’ is about a friendship between Peter and Peter, the one knitting a knot for the other. Isn’t it lovely? “Peter knits a knot for Peter”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Риба риби гризе реп

Pronounced in Latin alphabet as “Riba ribi grize rep”, the Bosnian ‘Jezikolomci’ means “one fish bites another fishes tail”.

Serbia

На врх брда врба мрда

In Serbia, the ‘фраза тешка за изговарање’ (tongue-twisters) written in Latin alphabet as “Na vrh brda vrba mrda” means “On the top of the hill osier moves.”

Macedonia

На врв брда врба мрда.”

The Macedonian ‘брзозборка’ approximatively means “Top hills willow moving”.

Albania

Kali, karroca, karroca, karocierri.

Let’s ride the Albanian ‘Tornado gjuha’ which means “Horse, coach, coach, coachman!”

Bulgaria

Петър плет плете, през три пръта преплита. Подпри, Петре, плета, падна, Петре, плетът

Peter is coming back! And this time, he tries to pass a fence in the Bulgarian ‘Скоропоговорката’ : “Peter is plashing a fence. He skips every three rods. Prop up the fence, Peter. The fence is down, Peter”.

Greece

“Άσπρη πέτρα ξέξασπρη και απ’τον ήλιο ξεξασπρότερη”

In Greece, the most famous ‘Γλωσσοδέτης’ is full of light just as the country can be in summer. It is translated as “A white stone very bright, even brighter than the sun

Turkey

Şu yoğurdu sarımsaklasak da mı saklasak, sarımsaklamasak da mı saklasak?

And finally in Turkey, the ‘Tekerleme’ is an existential question: “Should we add garlic in that yogurt and keep it then, or should we not add garlic and keep it?

 

If you liked this article, you may also like European Palindromes, Nationality-related Idioms, Untranslatable Words and Willies.

Mini - European Palindromes  Mini - European Nationality-Related Idioms  Mini -Untranslatables  Mini - European Willies

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