A Different Kind of Drill: German Tongue Twisters

Whenever you are learning a new language, whatever language that may be, you have to put some work in. As you probably have noticed, there’s simply no way around that. If you’re trying to learn German it is quite likely that you are doing one or several of the following things already. You might be memorising verb conjugations using tables, or certain lists of vocabulary that are sorted into themes. You are probably also doing some sort of listening comprehension exercises, even if that is simply in the form of consuming media in your target language.

On a more active side of things, you might be doing some writing exercises where you try to produce your own sentences or maybe stories. And most importantly (arguably), you should be getting in some speaking practise, maybe doing some sort of spoken drills that train various aspects of pronunciation and get you used to wrapping your tongue around the new language that you are trying to learn.

This is where tongue twisters might come in since they are a great way to train these pronunciation skills and gain confidence in your own ability to speak German. After all, they can sometimes be quite tough even for native speakers themselves!

In German, tongue twisters are literally called “tongue breakers”, Zungenbrecher. The following video gives a fairly good idea of what you can aspire to with German tongue twisters. If you manage to keep your tongue in one piece and not get it all twisted into knots, it shows what a great workout for your tongue’s mobility German Zungenbrecher can be!

The above is an extreme example, of course, but what makes a tongue twister a tongue twister? Tongue twisters are essentially phrases or short, “poem like”, and often humorous utterances that are meant to be a kind of word game. They contain words that are very similar or that contain sounds that are easily mixed up, particularly when said quickly – twisting, or maybe breaking in the case of German ones, your tongue!

Tongue twisters are common in many languages and often passed down the generations. Because of this, they are often a part of local folklore and tell you things about a language’s mentality (if you want to read more into them than is strictly necessary that is). Besides being fun, they are also commonly used as exercises to improve enunciation among native speakers themselves, in drama lessons for example, for helping with speech impediments and even to test the fit of dentures!

For learners of German, tongue twisters can also be fun ways of reinforcing other aspects of the German language beyond pronunciation itself. If you have to read them out loud, you are often presented with examples of nouns and verbs that look identical except for the capitalisation of the first letter in nouns that is the rule in German. Other tongue twisters are great examples of German cases at work and serve as memorable ways to reinforce grammar topics as well. All in all, tongue twisters are a fantastic, if slightly unorthodox, all-round tool for German learners! ‘Multilearning’, where learners are working on more than one thing at once while doing only one task is arguably the best way to learn.

Zungenbrecher examples

Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach

This first example is also a good way for learners to remember that in German, the same word can change from verb to noun or from noun to verb just by capitalising the first letter. Although nonsensical, it is also true that “when flies fly after flies they fly after flies”!

Kluge kleine Katzen kratzen keine Krokodile

Although highly unlikely to happen, this is another example of tongue twister that is “true”. Clever little cats (Kluge kleine Katzen) don’t usually go around scratching any crocodiles if they know what’s good for them (kratzen keine Krokodile)!

Schnecken essen Kresse nicht, denn Kresse schmeckt den Schnecken nicht

The truth behind this one is a little bit more questionable – do snails like Cress? Don’t snails eat pretty much anything that’s leafy and green? Maybe there are some snails that are pickier than others…

In any case, the image it conjures up is an amusing one and it is also a great example of how the dative case works in German, one of those grammar issues that English speakers often find tricky.

Acht alte Ameisen aßen am Abend Ananas

This one is obviously a made up story, possibly a part of a long lost fairy tale? Eight old ants ate some pineapple in the evening? Not exactly credible but it can, however, be used as an example of the TEKAMOLO rule. Imagine extending it a bit more into something that is not quite so much a tongue twister anymore, but that serves to illustrate the rule: “Acht alte Ameisen aßen am Abend gerne zu Hause Ananas”.

Bierbrauer Bauer braut braunes Bier, braunes Bier braut Bierbrauer Bauer.

No Chatterblog post about the German language would be complete without Otto or one of his family members being featured on it. The recording we made of this tongue twister takes place somewhere in rural Germany, with the “beer brewing farmer brewing brown beer” (almost a tongue twister in English as well!).

Here are some more fun German Zungenbrecher for you to try out, some more tongue twister drills to make or break your tongue!

So geht es Dänen und denen, denen Dänen nahestehen.

Zehn zahme Ziegen zogen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo.

Auf dem Rasen rasen Hasen, atmen rasselnd durch die Nasen.

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

Oma kocht Opa Kohl, wenn Opa Oma Kohl kocht. Doch wenn Oma Opa Rosenkohl kocht, kocht Opa Oma Rotkohl.

Ein Student in Stulpenstiefeln stand auf einem spitzen Stein und starrte stundenlang die stillen, stummen Sterne an.

Zwei Schweizer schwitzen schwer beim schwierigen Schweissen – beim schwierigen Schweissen schwitzen zwei Schweizer schwer.

Hansen Hansens Hans hackte Holz.Hätte Hansens Hannchen Hansen Hansens Hans Holz hacken hören,hätte Hansens Hannchen Hansen Hansens Hans Holz hacken helfen.

Bernd Bolls, bürgerlicher Brauhausbesitzer bei Brauner, berühmte bayrische Bierhymne beginnt: “Biedere, brave Bierbrauerburschen bereiten beständig bitteres, braunes, bayrisches Bier.

Der forsche Froschforscher forscht im Forst nach forschen Fröschen.Wer nichts weiss und weiss, dass er nichts weiss, weiss mehr als der, der nichts weiss und nicht weiss, dass er nichts weiss.

Be they about snails, frogs, danes or beer brewers from Bavaria (among many other things) tongue twisters are a fun way for you to drill your pronunciation skills while reinforcing grammar concepts with fun and memorable examples, even if they are often a bit nonsensical! Whatever else might be said about them, they are a great way to keep your learning entertaining and a fantastic alternative to many of the classic, and often dull, textbook examples that you are likely to come across during your journey learning the German language. Keeping things fun is the best way to make sure you keep progressing!

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