A tongue-twister is probably the most utilitarian genre of oral folklore: it doesn’t convey much meaning and is only useful for practicing your pronunciation. While the English term seems to highlight how hard it is to pronounce, in Russian we emphasize the speed with which you’re supposed to say them: the Russian word for tongue-twisters is skorogovorki (skoro – quickly, govorit’ – to speak). Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds, so it’s ok to start by just getting them right. However, you can try to speed up over time, after all, they aren’t called “slow-govorki”.

Stolen corals and biting crayfish

I remember that as a child I tried to visualize all these weird scenarios from tongue-twisters. What kind of a name is Greka? Why do Karl and Karla keep stealing from each other? Who knows. Let’s see a list of the most popular Russian tongue-twisters, maybe we’ll figure it out.

1. Карл у Клары украл кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет.

[Karl u Klary ukral korally, a Klara u Karla ukrala klarnet]

English translation: Karl stole corals from Klara and Klara stole a clarinet from Karl. 

This mischievous Bonnie-and-Clyde kind of a couple helps us practice a tough combination of kl [кл] and kr [кр]

2. Ехал Грека через реку, видит Грека – в реке рак.

[Yekhal Greka cherez reku, vidit Greka - v reke rak]

Сунул Грека руку в реку – рак за руку Греку цап!

[Sunul Grega ruku v reku - rak za ruku Greku tsap]

English translation: Greka was going over the river, Greka saw a crayfish in the river. Greka put his hand in the water and the crayfish bit his hand!

Well, in this case, we not only do you get to practice lots of r’s [р], but are also taught a valuable lesson – crayfish are not to be messed with.

3. Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку.

[Shla Sasha po shosseh i sosala sushku]

English translation: Sasha was walking on the highway sucking on a sushka.

No idea why would you suck on a pretzel instead of eating it but that’s what Sasha felt like doing (in the middle of a highway!). Again, not a recommended activity, but a great way to check if you’re getting your sh [ш] and s [с] right.

4. Корабли лавировали, лавировали, да не вылавировали.

[Korabli lavirovali, lavirovali, da ne vylavirovali]

English translation: Ships had been maneuvering and maneuvering but weren’t able to “maneuver out”.

I feel like this one can easily be one of these one- or two-sentence-long horror stories. Let’s hope the ships have eventually figured it out and practice our l [л] and r [р].

5. Во дворе трава, на траве дрова.

[Vo dvore trava, na trave drova]

Не руби дрова на траве двора.

[Ne rubi drova na trave dvora]

English translation: There is grass in the backyard and wood on the grass. Don’t chop wood on the backyard’s grass.

No idea why you wouldn’t chop wood in your backyard, but you know. Just don’t. Try exercising the sound r [р] instead.

And the last tongue-twister for you is actually very true:

6. Все скороговорки не перевыскороговоришь.

[Vse skorogovorki ne perevyskorogovorish']

English translation: It is impossible to pronounce all the tongue-twisters quickly. 

Maybe you won’t pronounce all of them but our list is a great start. Hopefully, your tongue won’t get too twisted.

For more material on the Russian language, check out our Speak Like a Russian series, as well as articles about proverbs and sayings, popular phrases from Soviet movies, and riddles.