Tongue Twisters

What are Tongue Twisters?

A Tongue Twister is a text that features 1 or a combination of sounds that are extremely difficult for the mouth and, of course, tongue to control. That is not only true in the case of second language learners, but also native speakers. Tongue Twisters are also a useful tool that phoneticians and speech therapists use to help someone with specific articulation disorders such as a lisp (the case of replacing sounds /s/ or /z/ with /ð/). Simply put, tongue twisters are equivalent to, say, "ankle weights" for professional runners who want to get their legs to work harder and consequently increase their speed.
I have always used tongue twisters in my pronunciation courses especially with Asian students who often have enormous physical limitations that can not be overcome except by physical training. Tongue Twisters are just great for that.

What are the pros and cons?


1-They help the students gain awareness of their pronunciation problems.
2-They help the students focus on and tackle these problems which leads to quick improvement.
3-They help the students build a new muscle memory.
4-They improve listening.


1-They can be boring especially in a classroom environment as different students have different problems.
2-They require a lot of patience and repetition from the teacher and therefore can be time-consuming and impractical in the classroom.

How should I use them with my students?

1-Use them as warm-ups especially if you happen to be teaching minimal pairs or other pronunciation exercises.
2-Prescribe them to your students as a therapeutic exercise to help train their muscles and eradicate the influence of their mother tongue on English. Of course, you would have to find the time to sit with them individually first and explain to them what and how to do it. You're going to have to make sure that they are able to distinguish between one sound and another in the tongue twister, otherwise, it will be counterproductive.
3-Make sure you transcribe the IPA of at least the key phonemes in the tongue twister so that the students are not confused the moment they get home and take that paper out of the bag for review.
4-Record it for them on their mobile phones or send it to them by email. You have no idea how grateful they will be as that will guide them when unsure of how to pronounce the words they are having issues with.

What Tongue Twisters should I use?

There are hundreds of tongue twisters on the net and it's always a good idea to choose the ones you believe are going to be most helpful for your students. As I have been continuously teaching, coaching and training ESL teachers in using phonetics and phonology in the classroom, I have put together a list of the most effective tongue twisters (based on my own experience) with phonetic transcriptions to assist both the students and teachers in using them in and out of the classroom.  Most of these tongue twisters have been converted into a more conversational format to promote pair work in the classroom.  I will not include all the tongue twisters at the moment as that would require a tremendous amount of work (Many tables need to be created in HTML), but I will gradually add them on until most phonemes are covered. The tongue twisters are basically grouped as follows:

Tongue Twisters for Consonants Practice

This category of Tongue Twisters features the English Consonants as the key phonemes for the learners to concentrate on and practice. Here's an example:

Red Lorry


Key Phonemes /r/ & /l/

A: Are you looking for a lorry?
IPA: ɚ lʊkɪŋ fɚ ə lɔːri?B: Looking for a red lorry
IPA: lʊkɪŋ fɚ ə red lɔːri.A: Red’s an ugly color for a lorry, I like yellow!
IPA: redz ən ʌgli kʌ fɚ ə lɔːri.B: Yellow lorry’s uglier than a red lorry.
IPA: jellɔːriz ʌgliɚ ðən ə red lɔːri.A: Rob likes a yellow lorry too, so does Lanie!
IPA: rɑːb laɪks ə jellɔːri tuː, soʊ dəz leɪni.B: Rob and Lanie’s lorry’s color’s ugly.
IPA: rɑːb ən leɪniz lɔːriz kʌz ʌgli

Key Pronunciation tips
For /r/ at the beginning of the word or syllable:
-Move your lips to the front forming a tight circle with them
-Curl the tip of your tongue back and make sure it does not touch the gum when pronouncing the sound.
For /r/ at the end of the word:
-Move your lips slightly to the front this forming an open square.
-Move the back of your tongue up close to the roof of your mouth and curl your tip back.
For /l/:
-Relax your lips and make sure you don't move them with your tongue.
-Press the tongue tip against the gum ridge, the bony part behind your upper teeth.

See More Tongue Twisters with IPA and Pronunciation Tips For Consonants

Tongue Twisters for Vowels Practice

This category of Tongue Twisters features the English Vowels as the key phonemes for the learners to concentrate on and practice. Here's an example:

The Cat's catcher


Key Phonemes /æ/ /e/& /ɚ/ or /ə/

A: My pal’s cat sat on the mat and made it wet.
IPA: mai pælz kæt sæt̬ ɑn ðə mæt ən meɪt̬ əʔ weʔ.B: wasn’t that the cat that ran off behind her owner’s back?
IPA:wʌzən ðæʔ ðə kæʔ ðəʔ ræn ɑːf bəhaɪnd ɚ oʊnɚz bæk?A: yes and the cat’s owner is a cat catcher who can’t find his own cat.
IPA: jes ən ðə kæts oʊnɚ əz ə kæʔ kæɚ hu kænʔ fnd əz oʊn kæt.B:Tell the cat catcher the best way to get the cat is to rent a rat.
A:tel ðə kæʔ kæɚ ði oʊnli weɪ t̬ə get ðə kæʔ əz tə rent ə ræʔ
Key Pronunciation tips
For /æ/:
-Open your jaw wide leaving about a 2-cm gap between the teeth.
-Move your lips back slightly.
-Move your tongue to the front while resting in the bottom of your mouth.
-Your tongue tip should touch the gum behind your lower teeth.
For /e/:
-Open your jaw slightly leaving about 1-cm gap between the teeth.
-Don't tense your lips at all. Just relax them.
-Tongue: Same place as in /æ/.
For /ə/:
-Relax your lips. Do not make any movement with your lips
-Relax your jaw. Do not open or close your jaw. Just keep it at a neutral position.
-Relax your tongue. Do not make any movement with your tongue. Keep it at a neutral position

See More Tongue Twisters with IPA and Pronunciation Tips For Vowels