Top Ten Foreign Language Tongue-Twisters

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Forget Sally selling her seashells by the sea shore – that’s nothing compared to what difficulties one might encounter when trying out tongue-twisters from different languages. This week’s Top Ten has amassed some of the more ridiculous foreign language tongue-twisters (and their approximate translations) for your enjoyment. These phrases are so complex, they might trouble the very fiber of your m-oral being!

10. Le ver vert va vers le verre vert. (French) The green worm goes towards the green glass. Would be a veritable tongue twister if nearly all the words weren’t pronounced the same way.
9. Ta tabbata ba ta taba taba taba ba. (Hausa). She is certain she has never smoked tobacco. Who would have thought that you could create a sentence with merely three letters?
8. Las papas que pelan Paca y Pola las pone Pepe, poco a poco, en pilas. (Spanish). The potatoes that Paca and Pola are pealing, Pepe is putting, little by little, in piles. Sounds like a ‘spud-tacular’ chore.
7. Karikaturisti karikaturon karikatura karakteristike! (Albanian) The caricaturist caricatures characteristic caricatures. Yes, that is generally what caricaturists do.
6. Kuku kaki kakak kakak ku kayak kuku kaki kakek kakek ku. (Indonesian) My sisters’ toenails look like my grandfathers’. Making this observation must have been quite a ‘feet.’
5. Wat was was voor was was was? (Afrikaans) What was wax before it was wax? Got me stumped. Wax?
4. SeÅ¡li se na resuscitačním sále se Å¡esti lůžky. (Czech) They met at the emergency room where six beds were. Sounds awkward. I bet all they could think of to say was, “Er…”.
3. Kekeeka kekiki kaaka kaakiki vuntundaa? (Telugu) How can the feather of peacock belong to a rooster? Such a philosophical question – makes me feel like I’m a birdbrain.
2. Сшит колпак не по-колпаковски. Надо бы колпак переколпаковать, надо перевыколпаковать. (Russian) The cap is sewn noncapways. One has to re-cap the cap, to over-recap it. I can’t vouch for that translation.
1. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. (Maori) The hill where the great traveler (Chief) Tamatea with the bony knees, who slid and climbed mountains, played his flute to his beloved. Technically, the name of a Hill in New Zealand, I’d be impressed if you could say that one time fast.

Do you have any additions to the list in English or another language?

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  1. Lucia Cai 11/30/2009 at 5:26 pm #

    ma ma ma (chinese) each has a different tone so in english would be mom scolds the horse

  2. S 11/30/2009 at 5:27 pm #

    German: Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische. . (Fisher Fritz fishes fresh fish.)

  3. Monica M 11/30/2009 at 5:29 pm #

    Je suis s’que je suis, et si je suis s’que je suis, qu’est ce je suis? (French)

    I am just what I am, and if I am just what I am, what is it that I am?

  4. Sia 11/30/2009 at 5:45 pm #

    Haha, my mothertongue is telugu and my dad’s had me try that one!

  5. Vivian 11/30/2009 at 5:55 pm #

    I have! In Portuguese, I’m Brazilian and here also have a few:
    ” O rato roeu a roupa do rei de Roma” (The mouse gnawed the clothes of the king of Rome)
    “Sabia que o Sabiá, sabia assobiar?” (Did you know that Sabia (bird), knew whistle?)
    Are fools as many tongue-twisters!
    Bye! Love Modcloth!

  6. Maddi 11/30/2009 at 5:55 pm #

    はしとはしではしました。 (hashi de hashi to hashimashita). “With chopsticks, I ran over the bridge.” (Japanese).

    I’m pretty sure there’s more to it (Japanese is reaaaally big on homynyms) but I can’t recall off the top of my head!

  7. milla 11/30/2009 at 5:56 pm #

    Det var en Knut som knøt en knut. Da kom en Knut og sa til Knut: Hva gjør du, Knut? Jeg knyt en knut, sa Knut og knøt en knut. (norwegian)

    Once there was Knut who knotted a knot. Then came another Knut and told Knut: Knut, what do you do? I’m making a knot said Knut and made a knot.

  8. milla 11/30/2009 at 5:57 pm #

    Fule fluers fugleflukt flyr fluksens flott.(norwegian)

    Foul flies’ bird-flight fly darn great.

  9. milla 11/30/2009 at 5:59 pm #

    Ibsens ripsbusker og andre buskvekster.(norwegian)

    Ibsen’s currant bushes and other shrubs.

  10. t 11/30/2009 at 6:11 pm #

    erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre carril, rapido corren los carros
    los carros del ferrocarril

    (spanish. it’s kinda difficult to translate, something about how fast the train goes… but i know it’s especially difficult for english speakers because of all the r rolling involved)

  11. Kate 11/30/2009 at 7:35 pm #

    My dad says these all the time. They’re in English, but even so…

    –I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, upon the slitted sheet I sit.
    –She sits in her slip sipping Schlitz.
    –As one pink porpoise popped into the pool, the other pink porpoise popped out.

  12. Kim A. 11/30/2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Paco Peco, chico rico, se molestaba a su tio Federico.
    Y federico se dice:
    Poco a poco, Paco Peco, poco pico!

    “Paco Peco, the rich kid, annoyed his uncle Federico.
    And federico said:
    Little by little, Paco Peco, you are starting to get to me.”

  13. Stacey C. 12/01/2009 at 12:08 am #

    Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.

    It’s Kiswahili for little by little fills the pot.

  14. Betty 12/01/2009 at 3:38 am #

    “Madame, schälle si ned an däre Schälle, die Schälle schällt ned! Schälle si an säller Schälle, sälli Schälle schällt!” it’s swiss german. There are so many of these. We call them “Zungenbrecher”.

  15. Wrecekrzepki 12/01/2009 at 5:19 am #

    “W Szczebrzeszynie chrzÄ…szcz brzmi w trzcinie”, dudes.

  16. Joyce c 12/01/2009 at 8:42 am #

    fantastic. Hannah What next palidromes? Hannah was I ere I saw Hannah

  17. Mathilda 12/01/2009 at 9:08 am #

    Portuguese: “um triste tigre, dois tristes tigres, três tristes tigres”. I never saw anyone who could say this right in the first try !

  18. Genevieve 12/01/2009 at 9:19 am #

    when I was in Mexico they taught a bit of Spanish at the resort and the instructor pulled the “erre con erre” thing with us. Apparently I can roll my ‘r’s really well because he thought I could actually speak Spanish 😛 It is definitely a tongue twister though!

  19. Hannah 12/01/2009 at 11:19 am #

    Wow everybody, so impressed with your multilingual talents! And palindromes, Joyce C – great idea!

  20. Sistinas 12/01/2009 at 11:38 am #

    Pablito clavó un clavito, qué clavito clavó Pablito?

    Little Paul hammered a nail, which nail little Paul hammered?


    Erre con erre guitarra
    Erre con erre barril
    Rápido ruedan las ruedas
    del Ferrocarril

    R with R guitar
    R with R barrel
    Fast roll the train wheels

  21. Aggie 12/01/2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Polish ones:

    Matka tka i tatka tka i tkajac lka.

    Czy tata czyta cytaty tacyta?

    Szedl Sasza sucha szosa.

    Even typing this hurts :)))

  22. Justine 12/01/2009 at 3:12 pm #

    In French : Je veux et j’exige d’exquises excuses.

    (I want and I demand exquisite apologies)

    We did these two in my Spannish class last year – I did quite well with the Pablito one, but I just can’t roll my Rs. x)

  23. michal 12/01/2009 at 8:44 pm #

    try the Hebrew:

    Ganan gidel dagan bagan, dagan gadol gadal bagan (the gardener grew grain in the garden, large grain grew in the garden)

    it’s not perfect syntax, but it’s a very effective braces breaker. as if Hebrew wasn’t difficult enough as it is…

    this is how it looks:
    גנן גידל דגן בגן, דגן גדול גדל בגן

  24. Nina 12/01/2009 at 11:52 pm #

    My dad always says this one:

    “Un chasseur sachant chasser chassait sans son chien de chasse.” (French)

    (A hunter who knows how to hunt hunted without his hunting dog.)

  25. Cilla 12/03/2009 at 7:06 am #

    Classic Swedish one:

    Sex laxar i en laxask

    Six salmons in a salmon-box

    Say that as fast as you can!

  26. Liset 12/03/2009 at 7:58 am #

    Achtentachtig almachtige grachten. (dutch) it is more funny when foreign people try to say it. They can’t pronounce the GGGG. It means eighty-eight allmighty canals.

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