Spanish tongue twisters: Tres tristes tigres

By Diana Mejía January 5, 2017

Trabalenguas, Spanish tongue twistersTangle and torment your tongue with Diana Mejía’s tongue twisters.

Trabalenguas, as the name implies, will get your tongue stuck trying to figure out their pronunciation. However, that’s the point. Practising the sounds is a way that Spanish-speaking kids use to have fun and perfect their pronunciation. This edition, we give you an opportunity to try and tie your tongue with some of these tongue twisters. Enjoy!

Warm up

Read them slowly, out-loud, and gradually try to build up speed and confidence. The first one is complete nonsense but the second one turns a nun into ham.

Zipi, zape, zipi, zape
zipi, zape, zipitón

Monja, monja,
monja, monja,
monja, monja,
monja, mon.

Poco coco como
porque poco coco compro
y como poco coco compro
¡poco coco como, compadre!

Pronunciation practice

To start off, practise saying only the diphthongs out-loud – /ei/, /eu/, /ia/, /io/, /ue/, /uo/. Each vowel should make a completely distinct and very short sound, which shouldn’t bleed into the next.

¡Qué ingenuo eres, Eugenio! 

Seis serios sirios
comen seis ciruelas de Siria.
Seis sabios serbios
comen seis cerezas de Serbia. 

The next two are some of the most common tongue twisters, and are helpful for that ever-elusive rolled r sound.

Erre con erre cigarro,
Erre con erre barril.
Rápido corren los carros,
Cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril.

Tres tristes tigres comen trigo
en tres tristes trastos en un trigal.

Here’s one to practise the difference between c sounds. Remember that before an a, o or u, the letter c sounds like a k, while before e or i it makes an s sound. Thus, Suecos (Swedes) is pronounced /Suekos/, while Suecia (Sweden) is /Suesia/. Don’t overlook the diphthongs here either (/ue/, /ui/); short and distinct is the trick.

Hay suecos en Suiza y hay suizos en Suecia.
Pero hay más suizos en Suiza que suizos en Suecia
y más suecos en Suecia que suecos en Suiza. 

And finally, a pronunciation challenge. Gente (/hente/ soft g) and gato (hard g) demonstrate the two sounds that the letter g can make. In this trabalenguas (hard g), all the g’s are soft and sound just like the Spanish j, while the Spanish y and ll sound like an English j.

Gema gime gimotosa
porque perdió la gema de su joya,
(/hema/       /hoja/)
que cayó dentro de la olla
y se convirtió en cebolla.

Word play

This section plays with words that sound the same but have different meanings (homophones), or just words that are very similar to one another. It might get a little confusing, but isn’t that what a tongue twister is all about?

Cuando cuentes cuentos,
cuenta cuantos cuentos cuentas,
porque si no cuentas cuantos cuentos cuentas,
nunca sabrás cuantos cuentos cuentas tú.

All these similar words can seem confusing, but the translation goes like this: When you tell tales, count how many tales you tell, because if you don’t count how many tales you tell, you will never know how many tales you tell.

Como means as, or from the first person singular verb comer, I eat. Cómo, with a tilde, means how.

Si yo como como como,
y tu comes como comes,
¿Cómo comes como como
si yo como como comes?

This can be translated as: If I eat the way I eat, and you eat the way you eat, how do you eat the way I eat? If I eat the way you eat?

The real challenge

Even for native speakers, this class of trabalenguas can be unpronounceable. The words don’t make sense for the most part, but the tongue twisters all have more or less the same structure. They go something like this: a noun has a certain condition that they would like to get rid of, and only the best person at getting rid of that condition will be able to do so.

Comí chirimoyas y me enchirimoyé,
para desenchirimoyarme,
¿cómo me desenchirimoyaré?

Tengo una marranita pescuecipelicrespa
con ocho marranitos pescuecipelicrespitos.
Aquel que la llegue a despescuecipelicrespar,
Será un gran despescuecipelicrespador de pescuecipelicrespitos.

El arzobispo de Constantinopla
se quiere desarzobispoconstantinopolitanizar
el desarzobispoconstantinopolitanizador
que lo desarzobispoconstantinopolitanice
buen desarzobispoconstantinopolitanizador será.

So have fun practising these trabalenguas, and you’ll be ready to challenge and impress your friends with your pronunciation and style.

By Diana Mejía