Tongue-twisters: learning Italian having some fun
How to speak Italian like a true native speaker? The musicality of the Italian language is the trademark of the beautiful language, but as Peter points out, gestures and improvisation are not enough to speak fluent Italian.
One of the funnier exercises you can try to help you put the pedal to the floor when you speak in Italian is to train with Italian tongue twisters.
Tongue twisters are puns, short sentences, or set of words, specifically designed to be difficult to pronounce. Italian tongue twisters can be a repetition of the same sound or of a limited set of sounds, generating a sort of sing-song difficult to articulate quickly.
These sentences are made up of language strategies that limit fluency, such as:
- groups of sounds difficult to articulate (“glio” and “glia”, “r”, “sci”)
- onomatopoeia: words that reproduce a noise, a sound or a verse;
- alliterations: repetition of a sound or a series of sounds;
- paronomasia: the juxtaposition of two words with a similar sound but of a different meaning.
Italian tongue twisters have a fantastic or humorous character, which concerns strange, grotesque and surreal themes and protagonists in order to have fun with the absurd, without critical intentions.
These are mostly meaningless nonsense. These are divided into moderate or radical nonsense. By moderate nonsense, we mean sentences with regular syntax and lexicon, but anomalous semantics. Radical nonsense also presents anomalies from a syntactic point of view.
The tongue twisters have very ancient origins. The first documented tongue twister is by the Latin poet Quinto Ennio, in the first book of the Annales:
O Tito Tazio, tiranno, tu stesso ti attirasti atrocità tanto tremende
O Tito Tazio, tyrant, you yourself attracted such terrible atrocities
In the original Latin version, it sounds even more difficult to pronounce. Certainly, the name of Tito Tazio was a good starting point:
O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti
The tongue twisters certainly have a funny effect, especially when you meet them for the first time and you can use them to challenge your friends and Italian buddies. The greatest difficulty is, in fact, the fast repetition.
As the speed of execution increases, you are led to make mistakes and lapsus (for anticipation, replacement, omission, addition) until you are unable to complete the sentence.
Then there are contrepèterie/spoonerism tongue twisters in which the rapid repetition leads to pronounce a taboo word. Although they are not as frequent in Italian as in French or English, we know quite a few. The most famous Italian contrepèterie is:
Dietro quel palazzo c’è un povero cane pazzo; date un pezzo di pane a quel povero pazzo cane
Behind that building there is a poor mad dog; give a piece of bread to that poor crazy dog
The Italian name for tongue twister Scioglilingua (Sciogli – lingua from sciogliere = loosen up) focuses more on the training and relaxation of the mouth muscles that we use to articulate the sounds.
According to speech therapists and teachers of diction, tongue twisters help improve diction by exercising the muscles and joints of the mouth.
How to use the tongue twisters to learn the Italian language
Begin step by step. Start by dividing the tongue twister into manageable segments. Work on each segment slowly so that you can manage the pronunciation of words.
When you feel comfortable with each segment that makes up the tongue twister, work on the complete sentence. Repeat several times and when it becomes easier for you to say it, speed it up a little at a time.
To help you, use a voice recorder to hear you and work to reduce the emission time. In the end, you will be able to amaze even the fastest Italians!
Discover our online Italian courses to test yourself with individual lessons or discover other activities to do in groups with students from all over the world and qualified native teachers with many years of experience.
Challenge yourself now with these 10 Italian tongue-twisters!
We have chosen 10 of the best Italian tongue twisters for the variety and usefulness of the sounds they present.
Trentatré trentini entrarono in Trento, tutti e trentatré trotterellando.
Thirty-three people from Trentino came into Trent, all thirty-three trotting and toddling.
This is one of the most famous of all. It will help you train the sound of the T and roll up the tongue for a perfect R.
Quel pazzo ha rubato un pizzo prezioso con un pezzo di pizza in un pozzo.
That madman stole a precious lace with a piece of pizza in a well.
This tongue twister is perfect for practising the sound of the Z and the doubles.
Sul tagliere gli agli taglia non tagliare la tovaglia la tovaglia non è aglio se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.
On the cutting board, don’t cut the tablecloth. The tablecloth is not garlic. If you cut it, you make a mistake.
This tongue twister clears one of the main obstacles: the pronunciation of the “gli”. This pronunciation appears eight times and allows us to see how it fits with the other vowels – “Glie,” “glio” and “glia”.
Ti che te tàchet i tac, tàchem i tac a mi – Mi tacàt i tac a ti, che te tac i tac? Tàchete ti i to tac, ti che te tàchet i tac
Tu che ti attacchi i tacchi, attaccami i tacchi a me – Io attaccarti i tacchi a te, che ti attacchi i tacchi? Attàccatteli tu, i tuoi tacchi, tu che ti attacchi i tacchi
You who attach your heels, attach my heels – Should I attach your heels, you who attach your heels? You attach your heels, you who attach your heels
Very famous in Lombardy and Emilia, the game rotates on six sounds (phonemes). It also allows you to practice on doubles and CH sound.
Apelle figlio di Apollo fece una palla di pelle di pollo.
Tutti i pesci vennero a galla, per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo
fatta da Apelle, figlio di Apollo.
Apelles son of Apollo made a ball of chicken skin.
All the fish floated to see the chicken skin ball
made by Apelles, son of Apollo.
A mythological word game with all the characteristics of nonsense. Repeat it several times to master the sound of the P and double L.
Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa.
Above the bench the goat lives,, under the bench, the goat dies.
Don’t let the goat die and repeat this tongue twister faster and faster to practice PR sound.
Francesco dal frascame frasche toglie per mescolarle con le fresche foglie.
Francesco takes branches from the bough to mix them with the fresh leaves.
This tongue twister will make you practice the FR, GL and SC sound.
Sette scettici sceicchi sciocchi con la sciatica a Shanghai
Seven sceptical silly sheikhs with sciatica in Shanghai
The pronunciation of S followed by another consonant is sometimes difficult to learn. This tongue twister will help you to perform two complex articulatory movements (s + t, s + c.) And the pronunciation of the group CH and CCHI as C as a hard K sound.
Sotto le frasche del capanno, quattro gatti grossi stanno; sotto quattro grossi sassi, quattro gatti grossi e grassi.
Under the boughs of the shack, four big cats stand; under four big stones, four big fat cats.
This tongue twister will help you practice double consonants like NN, TT, SS. The predominance of words with double consonants in it, helps you work on your emphasis.
C’è il questore in questura a quest’ora? No il questore in questura a quest’ora non c’è se ci fosse il questore in questura a quest’ora le avrebbe già fatto la questura.
Is the commissioner at the police station at this hour? No the police commissioner is not at the police station at this hour if the police commissioner was at the police station at this time he would have already done the police.
A quite long sentence, but useful to familiarize yourself with the sound given by the QU combination. Not to be confused with CU, which is always followed by a consonant (eg. Pillow, curve, curiosity etc.).
The QU instead is always followed by a vowel, (eg. questura –police station, aquila -eagle, colloquio – interview, etc.).
Keep practising, discover our Italian online courses.
Infographic with the funniest tongue twisters from around the world.