Tongue Twisters – 5 benefits

In an Adrian Underhill video I watched recently, he starts off by saying that one of the aims of the workshop is “to take pronunciation out of the head and turn it into a physical activity”. He goes on to say that he considers one of the problems with teaching pronunciation is that it is often a mental activity instead of a physical one.

After watching this video and one other with Judy B. Gilbert, and also having written an LSA on Pronunciation, I have realised how pronunciation has been lacking in my teaching over the years. For this reason I have been trying out some different techniques every week.

Today I tried out tongue twisters. There are many websites you can get them from by just typing “tongue twisters” into google. Not all of them are appropriate for a class context, so you’ll need to be selective.

The activity in my lesson was done by giving students a few tongue twisters each. They then had to take it in turns to utter their tongue twister to their partner who had to write down what they heard. They found this a little challenging, especially when it came to unfamiliar names however they seemed to enjoy it.

I found 5 main benefits from doing this activity.

1. Students become aware of sounds they have trouble with

Students are usually quite conscious of the pronunciation problems they have, as their teachers often tells them (or their parents) on a regular basis. However this activity showed my students how their problems with pronunciation can lead to intelligibility issues and a break down in communication. I think some of them were a bit surprised at how many times they were asked to repeat it.

This was great to see as now they know where and why they have to improve.

2. Students become aware of common pronunciation issues for speakers of their L1.

The students who were listening and writing had the opportunity to pick up on common issues in the class by talking to different students. They were then able to reflect on if they have the same issues and if they also need to improve them.

3. Tongue twisters provide an element of fun

Even though students find them challenging, it is the challenge that makes them engaging. My students tried several times, and after a few laughs here and there from their classmates I could see on their faces the expression “I’m going to manage this”, and eventually they were able to pronounce it properly (or close enough).

4. They provide controlled practice

Students have the opportunity to practice their pronunciation in class and ask the teacher any questions they might have. I was able to get students’ attention on pronunciation issues like never before. They were interested and wanted to know how a certain sound works, so I was able to explain the physicality of it (E.g. for /l/ your tongue touches your teeth).

I used them in a very general way today however they can be used for all sorts of pronunciation practice such as individual sounds, rhytm, stress, intonation and connected speech.

5. It gives teachers feedback

Tongue twisters provide the teacher with a window to collate data about students pronunciation and decide what pronunciation features might need to be taught next at a segmental and suprasegmental level. For example, this week I gathered information that lead me to believe that I need to focus more on sentence stress and intonation.


You could also do a follow up activity by having students create their own difficult Tongue Twisters for their classmates based on the information they gathered during the activity.

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