Tongue twisters

2012-07-20

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Tongue twisters are a great way to work on pronunciation. To native English speakers, even fairly easy tongue twisters can be quite challenging to ESL students. When we are choosing what tongue twisters to study, it's best to start with a particular sound in mind. For example, if students are having trouble with consonant blends, a tongue twister like A big black bug ... might work well.

Some sentences are good for practicing phonics. They don't really qualify as tongue twisters, I suppose, but they're related and useful for speaking practice.

  1. The cat sat on the hat.
  2. The pig had Pizza Hut.
  3. Dad had a big red wig.
  4. The bat had a bug.

Native speakers typically try to say tongue twisters quickly, but for ESL students, saying tongue twisters slowly is great practice. In large part, we practice tongue twisters to focus on certain sounds or sound patterns. Since our students will later use these sounds when speaking at normal speed, practicing tongue twisters at slow and normal speed is fundamental. That being said, saying tongue twisters quickly is a good challenge, and it keeps speaking practice entertaining.

  1. Red leather yellow leather (repeat).
  2. Unique New York (repeat).
  3. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  4. How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck would?
  5. A big black bug bit a big black bear.
  6. A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood.
  7. Six thick thistle sticks.

With Japanese students, there are some commonly-recognized difficult sounds: the "a" in "cat", the "er" in "Thursday", the "th" sounds, and the "l" in "ball". It is easy to notice that these sounds can be problematic, so teachers are likely to cover them extensively. What we may not notice are some of the less-visible but still difficult sounds, if we aren't paying close attention. For example, the "t" in "shirt" and the "y" in "year" can be problematic, but they're also subtle and easily overlooked (like many consonant sounds). Regardless of what tongue twisters are selected, they should be practiced over multiple sessions. Learning how to pronounce a word properly takes a long time, and even if someone gets it right one time, it takes a lot of practice for the proper sounds to stick. A good way to do tongue twisters is to have one or two in use each class. Practice a tongue twister together, then ask students to say it five times slowly, and finally ask students to say it five times quickly. If you're focusing on a specific sound (or two similar vowel sounds), have a list of some words using that sound (or sounds) on hand, and work on them after finishing with tongue twister practice.

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This entry is under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. By Douglas Paul Perkins.
English | School | Japan