Tongue Twisters are useful ways to practice pronunciation with your class, especially if the sound you are practicing does not exist in the students’ mother tongue.
For example, the /ʃ/ sound does not exist in Greek and is often pronounced /s/ by Greek students. This means students there will often say sip instead of ship.
So, students in Greece can often benefit from:
- learning the method of producing the sound /ʃ/
- practice saying it with a tongue twister such as, She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
The reason this is a tongue twister for English speakers is that it relies on two similar but distinct phonemes. In this case they are /ʃ/ and /s/.
Thus a tongue twister can not only be used for students to practice the sounds, but also as a teaching aid to demonstrate the difference between the sounds and the importance they have (much like minimal pairs).
Selection and Usage
There are plenty of tongue twisters you can find online, but rather than use them randomly make sure they fit in with the pronunciation problem that needs to be addressed and, if you can, the theme of the lesson. In this latter case you can use a tongue twister to help students remember a word or phrase. For example, suppose you have just taught the idea of -ish as a suffix meaning approximately. A quick tongue twister activity to help students remember would be for them all to say this word ten times quickly:
Some teachers like to make a collection of tongue twisters which they can use when a specific problem arises.
Note that usually tongue twisters are supposed to be said 3 times fast. You may often notice that a tongue twister which is very difficult for a native speaker is in fact easier for a learner of English and vice versa. This is due to a sound combination which is perhaps uncommon in one language being common in another.
Finally, avoid using tongue twisters which use poor English. The student who repeats these many times will come to learn the mistake as correct English!
Sample Tongue Twisters
Not all these will be useful for your class, but you can choose those which work well.
- A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee cup.
- A cheap sheep is cheaper than a cheap ship.
- Black bug’s blood
- Greek grapes.
- Red leather, yellow leather.
- Red lorry, yellow lorry.
- Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
- She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
- She saw shy sheep.
- The Leith police dismisseth us, which causeth us dismay.
- Push, pull. Push, pull. Push, pull.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
See the links at the bottom of this page for more.
The Hardest Tongue Twister in the World
According to the MIT, the hardest tongue twister in English is
pad kid poured curd pulled cold
Researchers at MIT found that none of the volunteers in a study were able to say the phrase 10 times without either giving up or producing the wrong sounds.
Tongue Twister Game
When you’ve practiced tongue twisters with the class, here’s a simple game you can play with them. You’ll need a list of tongue twisters and a stopwatch.
Simply divide the class into groups of 5 or 6 students. Get the first group to the front of the class and give them a tongue twister. Then, in turn, each student in the group has to say the tongue twister 3 times and you note the time it takes for the whole group to finish. Then the next group and the next.
The team who says the tongue twister quickest wins!
Lists of Tongue Twisters
The following links are to other sites which have long lists of tongue twisters, many of which may be appropriate for your class.
Uebersetzung – an Austrian site with a list of almost 600 English tongue twisters (plus loads more in other languages).
Tongue Twisters from Thinks – a good list from thinks.com
Can you conquer the hardest tongue twister ever created? – an article in the British Independent newspaper about the hardest tongue twister ever created (December 2013)