Tips and tricks on using tongue twisters in ESL teaching

The use of tongue twisters for ESL teachers

The use of tongue twisters for ESL teachers

15.02.2024

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  • Speaking
  • Vocabulary
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No matter which language you study, pronunciation is always a challenge. Even though there are many popular ways to enhance students’ pronunciation, tongue twisters are not among them, as they are usually considered to be unserious and childish

However, Grade University professionals disagree. In this article, we are going to prove that American and British tongue twisters are powerful tools you should consider using.

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On the tongue twisters and reasons they are great

Tongue twisters are both hilarious and scary phrases that accumulate the most difficult sounds in short sentences and make you try really hard to succeed in pronouncing them.

To achieve their specific impact, they frequently use alliteration (which is a series of words that begin with the same consonant sound, for example: Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers), repetition, and unconventional word combinations.

Apart from being very engaging and entertaining, tongue twisters help to improve one’s articulation by testing the ability to see the difference between similar sounds and keeping the tongue from twisting :) 

Also, tongue twisters are great for building fluency. After overcoming such a challenge you can’t help but improve speech flow and reduce hesitations when speaking. 

Plus, there is always a chance your students will learn some new words and phrases and therefore expand their vocabulary.

Moreover, tongue twisters are an exceptionally great tool to explore a different culture. Many tongue twisters are culturally rooted and offer insights into English-speaking cultures. They can spark curiosity about language origins, idiomatic expressions, and cultural nuances, enriching learners' understanding of English-speaking societies.

A lot of people wonder how these amusing expressions appeared. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain. The most probable version sounds the following way: some clever poets and linguists created them to experiment with the boundaries of language and comedy.

Whatever the correct answer is, it doesn’t change a very clear fact: great tongue twisters can and should be used in ELT.

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Short tongue twisters for beginners

You can definitely start implementing these pronunciation activities with some short tongue twisters. In fact, the length of the tongue twister usually doesn’t correlate with its difficulty.

Therefore, even the shortest tongue twister can turn out to be a ridiculously challenging case

Here is the list of our favorite short tongue twisters for adults and children.

  1. Red lorry, yellow lorry. – this tongue twister is really hard to deal with when it is repeated several times in a row.
  2. If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose? – apart from being rather hard to pronounce, this tongue twister can also be used as a warm-up to present the basic conditional sentences.
  3. You know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York. – this tongue twister is perfect for beginners as it doesn’t contain any difficult structures but still requires a lot of effort to say it correctly.

Easy and funny tongue twisters for kids

If you think that tongue twisters are too complicated for kids, you are wrong! Children adore this fun way of practice

Moreover, tongue twister games make them much more engaged in the process of learning.

The main thing about picking up the right tongue twister is to make sure that it doesn’t contain the structures that students are unable to comprehend, that all the words are understandable and the general meaning is funny.

Here are some of our examples of easy tongue twisters for kids:

  1. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. – here two main principles are combined – the tongue twister is easy to comprehend both lexically and grammatically. Plus, it is pretty funny. 
  2. A happy hippo hopped and hiccupped. – another short, very understandable but still challenging combination of sounds and words that your young learners will love.
  3. Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he? – even though this tongue twister is a little bit longer and more difficult than those mentioned above, it is still appropriate for small kids and can be even used for introducing tag questions.

If you are interested in discovering more tongue twisters in English, you can use these YouTube creator’s ideas:

Hard and long tongue twisters for adults

Teaching adults is not an obstacle to implementing tongue twisters in your lesson plan as many ESL teachers may think.

On the contrary, adults tend to be very competitive and excited about overcoming some challenges.

Here are some rather hard and long tongue twisters for adults:

  • 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? – this is a tongue twister that would be really hard to reproduce with kids but is still perfect for adults. With the help of this tongue twister, they not only practice pronunciation (especially the difference between ‘pepper’ and ‘paper’) but also revise Past Simple and can even be introduced to Conditional sentences.

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  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood. As a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood – this long and complicated tongue twister is a treasure for those who want to challenge themselves with both more complicated speaking patterns and grammar. If you have some daring students, you can always propose one of the hardest tongue twisters!
  • How many cans can a canner can if a canner can can cans? A canner can can as many cans as a canner can, if a canner can can cans – I like this tongue twister because it requires not only accurate pronunciation but also close reading in order to understand what it is all about. This peculiarity makes the task even harder and more interesting!

Play and teach with flashcards

Have fun with flashcards

Is it possible to create your own tongue twisters?

This is a question that ESL teachers often ask. The answer is “Sure, why not?”

Creating your own tongue twisters is not as hard as it may seem. The only thing is to mind the following rules:

Think of the sounds

Carefully consider which sounds you would like your students to practice.

Then, pick up some words that contain a chosen sound. After, play with the sounds a bit and try to combine the words into a simple idea or even plot. It is a very funny activity you may even assign to your students for a change!

Here is what I have got while thinking of a tongue twister with a /b/ sound:

Betty bought bright blue balloons by the bay, but a very bad burst of wind blew them away.

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Make it memorable

One of the most distinctive features of tongue twisters is how memorable they are.

Try to play with rhyme or create the main character who is engaged in some funny activity. You can also try to link your tongue twister to the focus topic. This simple manipulation will increase the level of both engagement and retention. Frankly speaking, everything depends on your creativity and goals!

Here is my idea of a tongue twister which is related to the topic of food:

Sally savored seven savory slices of sizzling pepperoni pizza.

Use AI-powered tools

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask AI-powered tools for help if you are stuck.

You won’t believe how great an AI’s offer may be!

Here are a couple of my first tries with ChatGPT:

  • Pamela picked a peck of plump purple peppers, Peter popped in and promptly proclaimed, 'Perfectly picked, Pamela!'
  • Wendy watched wild whales waltzing whimsically while weaving wicker baskets :))

AI-powered tools for ESL teachers!

To sum up, tongue twisters are a great form of practicing pronunciation with both kids and adults. Another advantage is that you can implement them in offline and online lessons. 

Of course, online teaching often requires some extra preparation and adaptation of the material, but with our online TEFL courses your students will be able to practice their pronunciation online as successfully as they would do during face-to-face communication.

Can tongue twisters be used while teaching adults?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & IELTS

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