10 Tongue Twisters to Improve English Pronunciation
What is a Tongue Twister?
A tongue twister is a combination of words designed to be hard to pronounce correctly.
The individual words themselves are usually quite commonplace, and easy to pronounce, but, combined as a set of words, they are surprisingly difficult to say. With quite a bit of practice, they become easier, and the idea is to say the phrases out loud, repeating them until you get it right.
Further down this page you will find various tongue twisters to try. When you read them, your brain makes the phrases look easy to pronounce, but when you actually say them out loud, you're likely to stumble over them at first.
What is the Purpose of Tongue Twisters?
You can use them to help you to improve your speech. In effect, they are speaking agility exercises.
Public speakers use tongue twisters to aid pronunciation, as they are very helpful in increasing verbal agility and improving diction. I remember reciting tongue twisters as a child, in elocution lessons, and they are used in speech training in public speaking for adults, such as actors, lawyers, lecturers, politicians and anyone who has to give company presentations.
Tongue twisters are very useful for people learning English as a second language (ESL students), as it helps them to get their tongues round familiar and unfamiliar words and to be more careful with their pronunciation.
It's Quite Fun to Try Them Out in a Group of People
Funny tongue twisters are a source of great amusement for children and adults alike. They can compete to see who can get to the end without stumbling or hesitating. This is a useful and enjoyable exercise for both children and adults, who might be native English speakers, or using English as a second language (ESL), or teachers of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).
Usually one person puts out a challenge to say the tongue twister as quickly as possible and repeat it several times. Then each person does this in turn, usually until at least one of them can get it right. The results are often funny. Number 9 in the list below always causes a smirk or giggle, because, if you get it wrong, which most people do if they are not careful, it has unintended naughty implications.
I don't know whether there are languages other than English which also have tongue twisters--if you know of any, do add your voice to the Comment section at the end of this article.
The First 3 are Tongue Twisters With the Purpose of Distinguishing Different “S” Sounds:
The tongue finds it quite difficult to move quickly between the sounds “s”, “sh” and “th”. The first tongue twister is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most difficult tongue twister:
1.The sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick
These ones are slightly easier:
2. She sells sea shells on the seashore
3. Does this shop stock shot silk socks with spots?
A Tongue Twister Which Helps With the Pronunciation of “R”:
The English “R” is a difficult letter to pronounce--even English people find it difficult, and some English people never do master it. Instead of saying “Rabbit”, they will pronounce it “Vabbit” or “Wabbit”. The Scots never even try--they pronounce “R” gutturally, like most continental languages, whereas the English “R” is actually pronounced at the front of the mouth, not in the throat. Some English people pronounce “R” by rolling their tongues slightly, but usually it is pronounced by using the lips rather than the tongue.
4. Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascals ran the rural races
A Tongue Twister to Help With the Pronunciation of “ai”:
Take the word “pain” – there are various regional differences in the way people pronounce it, from “pen” to “pine” and various intermediate sounds, but if you wish to speak English without a regional accent, you would pronounce it as in “pay” – “payn”.
5. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain
You may recall that this phrase was adopted into a song of that title in the musical and film “My Fair Lady”, but, as a tongue twister, it was in use long before that.
Here Are 3 Tongue Twisters to Help With General Verbal Agility:
6. Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather
7. The leith police dismisseth us
8. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Be Careful With the Following Tongue Twister or You May be Called a Rudie:
You'd better say this one very slowly and carefully indeed, and not in front of anyone with a delicate sensibility:
9. I'm not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate
I'm only plucking pheasants
'Cause the pheasant plucker's late.
And, Finally, Here’s a Tongue Twister I Made up Myself:
10. A preponderance of protrusions on a prehistoric man
A protrusion is something which sticks out - it could be nail heads, or, as in the case of the monster below, pointed scales.
Are you frightened????
OK, Just One More, Suggested by a Reader:
11. Betty Botter bought a bit of butter;
“But,” she said, “this butter's bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit o’ better butter
Will make my batter better.”
Then she bought a bit o’ butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
I bet you can't say that one without stumbling.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Diana Grant