The struggles of speaking Dutch – Dutch tongue twisters

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During the Summer School, we like to torture the students, at least, a little bit.

This time I wanted to see what happens if you give the students a piece of paper with a Dutch tongue twister on it.

Tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are sentences that are, for various reasons, really difficult to pronounce. Tongue twisters are not only good for torturing students. Learning a tongue twister can be used to impress people with your Dutch language skills.

Besides that, tongue twisters are a great way to practise and improve pronunciation of difficult sounds and fluency.

And these sentences are not only for children or students who are learning Dutch. Dutch people have trouble, pronouncing some of these sentences with great difficulty.

Let’s take a look at the sentences I gave the students.

De koetsier poetst de postkoets met postkoetspoets

The major difficulty here is the difference between the [oe] sound and the [o] sound. Combine these with the difficult [ts] and [p] sounds and you get a really complicated tongue twister!

Pronunciation TIP!

  • The Dutch [o] sound is like the [o] in hot
  • The [oe] sound is like the [o] in who or [ue] in blue.

Tongue twisters are not only good for impressing people, they can also be helpful. Dutch tongue twisters are a great way to practise and improve the pronunciation of difficult sounds and fluency. And these sentences are not only for children or students. I know that actors, politicians, and public speakers practise speaking with these difficult sentences.

In this list I will show you some of the most popular Dutch tongue twisters. Try to say them as quickly as you can, and, if you master them, you can impress your friends as a confident speaker.

And because you want to know what you are saying I will provide a translation of each Dutch tongue twister!

Wij smachten naar achtentachtig prachtige nachten bij achtentachtig prachtige grachten

We yearn for eighty-eight beautiful nights at eighty-eight beautiful canals.

Pretty easy in English, right?

The challenging element in this sentence are the ch / g sounds which are in the back of your throat and are difficult to pronounce when you are learning Dutch.

Scheveningse scheve schoenen

Scheveningen crooked shoes   

Another one with the ch / g sound. This sentence was used during WW II to detect German spies. Germans would pronounce Scheveningen (a town close to Den Haag) as ‘Sh’.

More information on the pronunciation of these sounds can be found here.

Toen Koos Koos koos, koos Koos Koos terug

When Koos (typical name for a Dutch man) chose Koos, Koos chose Koos back.

In this sentence the letter combination [oo] is important.

Zelden zagen wij zagende zagen zo zagen als wij onze zagende zagen zagen zagen

Kind of difficult in English as well, because this means: Rarely did we see sawing saws so sawing as we saw our sawing saws.

The complication comes from the past tense of zien (zagen) and the plural noun for a saw (zagen)

Als een potvis op een pispot pist, heb je een pispot vol potvispis

If a whale pisses in a chamber pot, then you have a chamber pot full of whale piss.

Liesje leerde Lotje lopen langs ‘de lange lindelaan’ maar Lotje wou niet leren lopen dus liet Liesje Lotje staan

Liesje taught Lotje to walk along the long lime tree avenue but Lotje didn’t want to learn to walk, so Liesje let Lotje stand.

De knappe kapper kapt heel knap maar het knaapje van de knappe kapper kapt nog knapper dan de knappe kapper kappen kan

The handsome hairdresser cuts very well but the helper of the handsome hairdresser cuts even better than the handsome hairdresser can cut.

Voordat was was was, was was kaarsvet.

Before wax was wax it was suet.

This tongue twister is an exercise with the ‘w’ and the ‘v’. Here you can learn more about this.

Here they are then: 8 really difficult Dutch sentences! If you are able to say any of these sentences fluently you will definitely impress your Dutch friends!

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School