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  • Philip M Russell

Mastering the tongue-twister

Updated: May 25, 2021

Have you tried tongue-twisters? A tongue-twister is a phrase that is deliberately designed to be difficult to say. Especially, at speed! These can be a lot of fun in small groups or even when practicing them alone. Some tongue-twisters are designed to produce results that are amusing when mispronounced. Others simply rely on creating confusion when mistakes are made. The idea of the tongue twister may have originated from the art of alliteration. An 'alliteration' as wikipedia puts it, is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words. For example, Black bug bit a big black bear. Over the years, tongue-twisters seem to have been offered up for everything from curing hiccoughs to testing the fit of dentures. More recently researchers into neuroscience have also used them to monitor brain functions. For our purposes, as an enunciation exercise, they help us improve both pronunciation accuracy and fluency. In the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, an unassuming flower girl from the streets of London (complete with a typical cockney accent) is taught how to speak like a lady of class. The author uses the following tongue-twister as one of the flower girl's exercises:- In Hertfordshire, Herefordshire and Hampshire Hurricanes Hardly ever Happen. Perhaps, surprisingly, the word that is so hard to say in this sentence is the word "ever". This is because all the other words begin with the letter H and so the speakers' tendency to say “Hever” becomes overwhelming. Supposedly, one of the trickiest tongue twisters to say is

  • Pad kid poured curd pulled cod

Which was created by MIT researchers in 2013. (Though we’re more fans of some of the old classics ourselves.) Some tongue-twisters are over two hundred years old and still useful today. For example, Peter Piper was first recorded in print in 1813 by John Harris in Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation. (Now, that’s a mouthful of a title!) When approaching a tongue-twister the first thing to remember is that this is not a test. Even native speakers trip up with tongue-twisters all the time! (That’s what they’re designed to do, trip us up.) The point of using them is to have fun while getting your brain and mouth used to making the correct sounds and shapes at the right time.

How to master the tongue-twister.

  1. Start slowly. Ensure that each word is clear and distinct (both in your mind and verbally.)

  2. Split the tongue-twister into sections. Practise one section at a time, then try joining two sections together.

  3. Repeat the tongue-twister until you're comfortable with it.

  4. Now, gently increase the pace.

Do not attempt to go too fast until you've mastered steps 1 to 3.

Below are some of our favourites:

  • Round the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal rudely ran

  • Moses supposes his toeses are roses.

  • If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose?

  • I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

  • Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, We’ll weather the weather, Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not.

  • The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick.

  • I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish the wish the witch wishes, I won't wish the wish you wish to wish.

  • Red lorry yellow lorry red lorry yellow lorry.

  • Peter Piper:-

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?

There are many other tongue twisters in English, why not see which ones you can find. Let us know which ones you like and why.

Tongue twisters can improve your spoken English
Mastering the tongue-twister

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