The simple trick to make anything in Spanish easier to say

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Do you ever come across phrases in Spanish that you can’t say right? 

I’m not talking about actual tongue-twisters like tres tristes tigres or el perro de San Roque. 

I mean everyday phrases that are just won’t come out. 

Sound combos that are like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth. 

The bad news is, I don’t think it ever stops. I’ve been practicing speaking Spanish for a long time and still get tongue-tied by random phrases now and again. 

But the good news is, there’s a simple trick to make any phrase easier to say.

Let’s look at what that is and how to use it. 

Thank the pigeons 

I’ve always been interested in languages. I’ve learned some, but started and given up on most of them. 

One of those was Russian.

As a 16 year old, I’d seen enough early-2000’s action movies to think it sounded pretty cool, so I decided to learn some. 

I like audio courses, so I found a *ahem* free copy of Pimsleur Russian online and dove in, listening every day on my way to swim practice.  

(I think I’ve paid for enough Pimsleur as an adult to make it up to them 👀). 

I lacked a good reason to learn, so I gave up after a couple months. 

But the most important thing I learned was something I still use today:


Pimsleur didn’t invent it — back in 1938, BF Skinner used it in operant conditioning experiments that taught pigeons to perform different actions to receive a treat.

Eventually, speech therapists and language learning programs discovered its applications in this area. 

Pimsleur uses it throughout their methodology, which helped me develop decent pronunciation at the start and not be overwhelmed in lesson one by words like zdravstvuyte (hello). 

So what exactly is back-chaining and how can we use it? 

In a nutshell, it involves learning a complex behavior by practicing in reverse order. 

With speaking skills — in our case, in Spanish — this means working backwards from the end of a word. 

So when confronted with refrigerador, you can pronounce it: 





refrigerador (one of my first YouTube videos, three years ago, used this example). 

But you don’t need to stop here. 

Por amor al arte 

I have found myself using this to untie my tongue in Spanish a couple of times recently. 

Not for individual words, but for entire phrases. 

Frequently when listening to Spanish podcasts, I try to repeat alongside what the hosts are saying (known as “shadowing”). 

A phrase came up last week that I could not say without stumbling:

Por amor al arte

It means, “just for the fun of it” – as in, él no trabaja por amor al arte, lo hace para pagar las cuentas (He doesn’t work for the fun of it, he does it to pay the bills). 

Looks harmless enough, but that L dropped in the middle of so many R’s was like driving into a brick wall. 

(The Spanish L and R are pronounced with the tongue touching roughly the same point on the roof of the mouth, which for me, makes those two letters together a challenge). 

So I remembered my Pimsleur training and started working backwards: 


al arte 

amor al arte 

por amor al arte 

It didn’t work immediately (almost nothing in a foreign language does). I went through this back-chaining process maybe 10 times while I was driving. 

I made sure to slow down and over-articulate (important when confronted with challenging sounds). 

It still feels a little awkward when I say it. But it is 10x better than it was. 

How to apply this to your Spanish today

The reason I like this approach is because it gives a straightforward, memorable way to approach a challenging bit of Spanish. 

It’s like actually reading the full Ikea instructions before assembly… you know where you’re going, and you know if you’re getting off track. 

Rather than getting frustrated that a certain phrase won’t come out, you have a tool to reach for. 

The way to make this work is to incorporate some form of speaking out loud in your daily practice. 

It’ll help you identify phrases that leave you tongue-tied. Then you can use back-chaining to make them come out with less of a fight. 

So today, pay attention to what’s hard to say. Then slow down, articulate, and work backwards. 

Gradually, it’ll help you take a piece of Spanish from choppy and awkward to smooth and easy. 

¡Inténtalo y dime cómo te va! 


P.S. If you found today’s tip helpful, and feeling more fluid overall in your Spanish is a goal of yours, this might help.

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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