28 Tongue Twisters that Will Improve Your Students’ ESL Pronunciation
You load a wrong way to get here?
Ahh, you rode a long way to get here. Gotcha.
Having a hard time understanding your students?
If you, the teacher, can’t understand their ESL pronunciation, you can assume that many others won’t be able to, either.
How do you remedy this problem? With tongue twisters!
These fun phrases can trip up even the most fluent speakers with alliteration and confusing combinations of words. Students of all ages love learning with these phrases, and they can add a whole new level of learning to your class.
The first step to pronunciation mastery? Identify the issues!
Common Troubles with ESL Pronunciation
The first language a student speaks is the one that will set the tone for their English pronunciation. So you’ll want to watch for languages that don’t have all the same sounds as in English. For example, in Spanish, “b” and “v” sound the same, though both letters technically exist. Likewise, Koreans and Chinese tend to have difficulty with “l” and “r.” Understanding your students’ native language will help you select the areas they need to work on. The trick is to identify the problems caused by the first language, and then you can choose the best tongue twisters to work with.
Some of the more common issues for English students include:
Aspiration: In English, we use a small expulsion of air to enunciate some letters. Try saying “P” or “Ch” or “K” to test this. You’ll notice a puff of air leaves your lips.
Mouth Shape and Tongue Position: Many foreign languages require very different mouth shapes for words. This results in difficulties for those learning English. Make sure your students know where their tongue needs to be and how to shape their mouth.
Throat Vibrations: In English, certain sounds make the throat vibrate. Try saying “g” to feel this for yourself. Now try saying “k.” While your mouth is exactly the same for each of these, they sound different. This can be difficult for students to differentiate.
Introducing Tongue Twisters to Your Class
Are you ready for the good fun of everyone tangling their tongues up in knots? These activities can result in rambunctious laughter, so be prepared! They’ll have a blast and so will you. But first…how are you going to set them up?
Listening or Reading?
Whether you’re working on listening skills or reading ability, you can always find tongue twisters to match the weaknesses of your students. However, keep in mind that a combination of both listening and reading practice is necessary for beginners to keep their level balanced. Their understanding of pronunciation will benefit greatly from being able to read the words as they hear them, particularly when there are words that they may not recognize. You might try this by writing a phrase on the board and then asking your students to let you know what they think it says.
While there’s no real reason not to work on the meaning of each word, keep in mind that a lot of these twisters are just for fun and most don’t make a lot of sense. They’re just good practice!
Tip: It’s good idea to practice any tongue twisters yourself before presenting them to the class so you won’t stumble over them. Embarrassing!
Implementing Your Tongue Twisters
Whether you decide to simply say the tongue twister or write it out, there are a ton of great methods for making use of all the the fun.
Try using a tongue twister in a game of Telephone, where each student whispers the phrase to the next. It will become delightfully tangled and you may end up with a whole new twister to use in class.
Create your own worksheets so students can dissect the phrases and figure out what they mean. This is great practice for learning that sometimes, words are just for fun.
Another good idea is to take some time to examine the letter sounds in the twists you use. Have students repeat the difficult sounds (v or b, l or r, etc.) a few times before attempting the whole thing.
Why not hold competitions to see who can fire off a twisted sentence without tripping up? The student with the fewest mistakes wins!
Tips for Pronunciation Success
- The majority of the twists shown here are for specific sound types. You’ll want to make sure your students understand how to pronounce each sound, so take a minute before you start to go over the letter sounds you think they’ll find difficult.
- For letters that require aspiration, try having students hold something light like a tissue or streamer in front of their face. When they say the letter properly, the item should move as they let out the burst of air.
- A mirror can also be very helpful in allowing students to shape their mouths correctly and to see that their tongue is in the correct position. You may also want to draw the correct positions on the board and make sure you form your letter sounds very precisely so students can copy you effectively.
- If a twister is less than five words, it’s usually a good idea to have students repeat it three times. This will tend to trip your students up. Start slowly, by pronouncing each word carefully and having them say it after you, then speed things up as they get the hang of it.
If you’re after another great resource to helps students with native pronunciation then be sure to check out FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
28 Tough Tongue Twisters for Specific Tricky Sounds
While tongue twisters in general are excellent for pronunciation, you can use specific ones to work on specific weaknesses. If your students tend to have problems with consonant blends, for example, you’ll want to use twists that encourage the correct pronunciation of those.
Get your quiet students talking with a few of these beauties!
Two consonants that form a blended sound can be hard for new English speakers. Build up their confidence with these:
She sells seashells by the seashore
I saw a kitten eating chicken in the kitchen
I thought I thought of thinking of thanking you
Slim slam slap
A big black bug snoozed on a big black rug
He threw three free throws
Thin sticks, thick bricks
Fred fed Ted bread and Ted fed Fred bread
L vs. R
Some of your students may have difficulty saying L and R. Asian language speakers often confuse the two letter sounds, so these tongue twisters are perfect practice.
Red lorry, yellow lorry
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream
Rolling red wagons
Red blood, bad blood
B vs. V
Spanish speakers frequently pronounce these two letters the same way, making it very hard to hear the difference. These rhymes will get your students speaking clearer.
Blue blurry vines blind
Betty loves the velvet vest best
Barber baby bubbles and a bumblebee
Burnt base, vicious vase
Vivacious Val vacuumed Violet’s very vivid vehicle
The correct pronunciation of vowels is essential if your students are going to be fluent in their new language. These tongue twisters will give them plenty of practice with enunciating their vowels.
Eddie edited Earl’s easy music
Gooey gopher guts
Excited executioner exercising his excising powers excessively
Annie ate eight Arctic apples
An orange oval spooks the odd operative
An awful aardvark and an aching ape ate an antelope
These ones can be a good way to fill a little extra time between classes or simply to break the tension in a classroom. Better yet, ask your students to share tongue twisters in their native language, too. Nothing is more entertaining than seeing the teacher attempt a funny twist in another language!
Printed papers under pressure make pens prickle
The poor boar pours batter over his putter
Six sticky skeletons
Thunder sunders thick sticks
If you find success with this pronunciation practice, make sure you always keep an eye out for more twisters to help your class speak as accurately and accessibly as possible.
Everyone loves a good jumble…you can even make your own!