For Consonants

1:07 pm

Box of biscuits

Key Phonemes (consonants cluster) /st/, /ts/, /ks/, /sk/ and /t∫/

This Tongue Twister is particularly great for Vietnamese and Thai speakers

A: I want a box of biscuits.
aɪ wɑnt ə bɑːks əv bɪskəts
B: Which box of biscuits you wish?
bɑːks əv bɪskəts ju wɪʃ?
A: A wicked box of biscuits which the witch could wish.
ə wɪkəd bɑːks əv bɪskəts ðə wɪ kʊd wɪʃ
B: The best box of wicked biscuits which the witch could wish is a batch of mixed biscuits.
ðə best bɑːks əv bɪskəts ðə wɪ kʊd wɪʃ əz ə bætʃ əv mɪkstskəts
A: Wicked! Give me the batch of mixed biscuits which the witch wishes.
 wɪkəd! gɪv mi ðə bætʃ əv mɪkstskəts ðə wɪ wɪʃəz
For some learners of English, like Vietnamese and Thai, it’s very hard to pronounce 2 or 3 consonants in a row without a vowel in between.  This creates problems in speaking, listening and of course fluency. 

Why is this tongue twister difficult?
Because your tongue has to know how to block the air entirely when pronouncing the /t/ or /k/ and then release it partially when pronouncing the /s/ or /ʃ/.

Let’s look at the word “mixed” /mɪkst/ for example.  You have 3 consonants k, s and t consecutively. For /k/, we block the air completely with the back of our tongue. For /s/, we allow some air to come out through a very tight gap between the tongue and the gum right behind the upper teeth.For /t/, we block the air completely again but this time with our tongue tip. Not even 1 vowel is found among the consonants, which makes it very difficult for the speaker to produce these 3 consonants accurately.

Tate’s date

Key Phonemes /t/ and /t̬/

This Tongue Twister is great for all English learners.

A: I know a boy named Tate.
aɪ noʊ ə bɔɪ nmd teɪt
B: Tate who dined with his girl at eight eight?
teɪt hu daɪnd wəðəs gɝl ə eɪt̬ eɪt
A: I’m unable to state what Tate’s date ate at eight eight.
ʌm ʌnbəl tə steɪtt teɪt̬ eɪt̬ ət̬ eɪt̬ eɪt


For detailed information on the pronunciation of letter [t], click HERE.How to Pronounce the [t]:
The /t/ sound is strong (aspirated) when it occurs in the beginning of the word as in [time] for example, or [too] etc, or after /s/ as in [stop] [station] etc.  When [t] occurs in the end of the word and is NOT followed by a vowel, it’s usually weak (unaspirated). Now notice in the tongue twister that when [t] got surrounded by 2 vowels as in [Tate ate at eight eight]teɪt̬ eɪt̬ ət̬ eɪt̬ eɪt̬ it changed to a tap almost similar to “r” in some languages like in Japanese or Spanish.  Do not assume it is a trill [rrrrrrr] as it is NOT that either but it bears a resemblance to it.  The tapped [t] or /t̬/ is heavily used in American, Canadian and Australian English.


Ray Rag

Key Phoneme  /r/ (in the beginning of the word)

This Tongue Twister is great for all English learners but especially for Asian learners

A: Who ran across a rough road?
hu: ræn əkrɑs ə rʌf roʊd?
B: Ray Rag ran across a rough road.
rræːg ræn əkrɑs ə rʌf roʊd.
A: Across a rough road Ray Rag ran?
əkrɑs ə rʌf roʊd rræg ræn?
B: but where is the rough road Ray Rag ran across?
bʌt werz ðə rʌf roʊd rræg ræn əkrɑs?
This /r/ is probably the most challenging sound for most English learners as it simply doesn’t exist in their native language, or isn’t used as it is in English.  Many languages have /r/ which sounds completely different from that in English, for example, in Spanish, Italian, Russian and Arabic, it’s a trill “rrrrr”, while in French and Dutch, it comes from the throat and in Japanese, it’s a sound that is somewhere between the dark /l/ in English and the trill [r] etc.

The best thing to do as a learner is to understand that you have to train your muscles to move in a different way when producing this sound, and it’s not going to be easy in the beginning.  It’ll probably feel a little weird as well in the beginning but it’ll gradually get better and feel more natural. Okay, now there are two things you need to do to make sure you are pronouncing /r/ reasonably well (in the beginning of the word).

  1. Your lips need to come forward and form a tight and well rounded circle as if you’re saying [w] but YOU DO NOT SAY [W].
  2. At the same time, you’ve got to make sure that your tongue tip is curled backwards WITHOUT touching the teeth or gum inside your mouth.Now watch the film and try to follow the mouth movements while holding a mirror in your hand.  Remember.  Repetition is the best and quickest way to improve your pronunciation.


Key Phoneme /n/ but also /l/ (at the end of the word)

This Tongue Twister is especially useful for Spanish speakers and most Asian learners.

A: How many cans can a cannibal nibble if a cannibal can nibble cans?
haʊ meni kænz kən ə kænəbəl nɪbəl əf ə kænəbəl kən nɪbəl kænz?
B: As many cans as a cannibal can nibble if a cannibal can nibble cans.
əz meni kænz əz ə kænəbəl kən nɪbəl əf ə kænəbəl kən nɪbəl kænz.
What could go wrong with consonant /n/ at the end of the word?

Just like many English consonants, the /n/ requires that we raise the tongue tip and place it against the ridge (alveolar ridge) while pushing the air through our nose. Most learners have no issue pronouncing /n/ in the beginning of the word as in [night] or [neck] but many of them do when they have to say it at the end as in [run] and [sun], which then often come out as [rung] and [sung].

Ok. The Solution?
Keep the root (back) of your tongue down/low and focus on your tip going up and contacting the ridge. Perform the movement slow at first and then once you make sure you are performing all the steps right, you may start to speed up.

For teachers:
You could encounter a situation in which the student seems to be raising the tongue tip and indeed touching the ridge as instructed, but you are still hearing an [ng] sound, if that happens, it means the student is nasalizing vowel /æ/, in [can] for example, by retracting the tongue dorsum (tongue root) up towards the soft palate (the roof in the back of the mouth).


Key Phoneme /w/

This Tongue Twister is particularly great for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian learners and all Spanish speaking learners.

A: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
haʊ mʌtʃ wʊd wət̬ ə wʊdtʃʌk tʃʌk əf ə wʊdtʃʌk kʊd tʃʌk wʊd?
B: He would chuck, he would, as much as he could.
hi wəd tʃʌk, hi wʊd əz mʌtʃ əz hi kʊd.
A: maybe chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would.
meɪbi tʃʌk əz mʌtʃ wʊd əz ə wʊdtʃʌk wʊd.
B: that’s if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
ðæts əf ə wʊdtʃʌk kʊd tʃʌk wʊd.
About this tongue twister:

The very first thing to be aware of about this tongue twister is that it’s not difficult only because of consonant /w/, but essentially because of the combination of consonant /w/ and vowel /ʊ/, so this syllable /wʊ/ itself is quite problematic for the learners mentioned above. Japanese, Koreans and Spanish, for example, can say /w/ independently but as soon as they have to produce it along with other phonemes, in this case, before vowel /ʊ/, the Japanese and Koreans delete it altogether, the Spanish insert a /g/ before it and some Indian learners replace it with /v/.

Solution?There isn’t only  one solution for all but it’s important that you understand the basics of this production regardless of what comes before it or after it. Here’s what you need to know about /w/. Both lips should form a very tight circle and push air out as they part open. Do NOT let the lower lip touch the upper teeth or both lips stay idle. For Spanish speaking learners, don’t let the tongue root touch the soft palate before /w/.