Tongue twisters, known as les virelangues in French, are useful tools in perfecting your pronunciation skills. Repeating them enables you to master certain French sounds, such as the dreaded “r”, and speak more clearly. It’s important though to remember that tongue twisters are nonsense phrases, and so shouldn’t be treated as grammar exercises.
I’ve given each virelangue with its English translation, and the most popular ones with a variation that you might also hear. On y va !
Le ver vert va vers le verre vert.
The green worm goes towards the green glass.
This is a classic virelangue that you can find countless variations of, including Ce ver vert sévère sait verser ses verres verts. (This strict green worm knows how to pour its green glasses).
Si mon tonton tond ton tonton, ton tonton sera tondu.
If my uncle shaves your uncle, your uncle will be shaven.
Another common tongue twister using tonton is: Tonton, ton thé t’a-t-il ôté ta toux ? (Uncle, has your tea healed your cough?)
You’re probably used to seeing “uncle” translated as l’oncle: le tonton is a just word for uncle used by toddlers and small children.
Les chaussettes de l’archi-duchesse, sont-elles sèches ou archi-sèches ?
Are the archduchess’ socks dry or extra dry?
There are a quite few variations of this tongue twister, and you may also see it written as: Les chaussettes de l’archiduchesse sont-elles sèches? Elles sont sèches, archi-sèches.
Je suis ce que je suis, et si je suis ce que je suis, qu’est-ce que je suis ?
I am what I am, and if I am what I am, what am I?
Of course, je suis can also translate as I follow, so you could also translate the tongue twister as “I follow what I follow, and if I follow what I follow, what do I follow?”.
In fact, you could even read it as “I am what I follow, and if I am what I follow, what am I?” Anyway, you get the idea.
Ces six saucissons-ci sont si secs qu’on ne sait si c’en sont.
These six sausages are so dry that we do not know if they are sausages.
Another variation of this popular tongue twister is << Bonjour Madame Sans-Souci, combien coûtent ces six saucissons-ci ? >> << Ces six saucissons-ci sont à six sous. >> (“Hello Madame Happy-go-Lucky, how much are these six sausages? “These six sausages are six pennies.”)
Je veux et j’exige d’exquises excuses.
I want and I demand exquisite excuses.
This is one that even native speakers struggle with, so you might want to begin with the slightly easier variation: Je veux et j’exige du jasmin et des jonquilles. (I want and I demand jasmine and daffodils.)
Je suis un original qui ne se désoriginalisera jamais.
I am an original who will never become unoriginal.
It should be noted the verb originaliser is very rare, and outside of this tongue twister, you’ll probably only see it in classical literature, if at all. And with the dés- prefix, you’re extremely unlikely to encounter it.
Ces Basques se passent ce casque et ce masque jusqu’à ce que ce masque et ce casque se cassent.
These Basques pass around this helmet and this mask until this mask and this helmet break.
If it makes it any easier to visualise and say, casque can also translate as headphones or a hairdryer.
La roue sur la rue roule; la rue sous la roue reste.
The wheel on the road turns; the road under the wheel stays put.
This is a very good virelangue for improving that guttural French “r” sound.
Si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents scies scient six cents cyprès.
If six saws saw six cypress trees, six hundred saws saw six hundred cypress trees.
To avoid confusion, scient means saw in the sense of “to cut with a saw”, and not to see with your eyes. It comes from the infinitive scier (“to saw”).