Note: The tongue twisters Paul mentions are available on the Pearson English site.
Tongue twisters, written to be difficult to say, abound in every language. This website boasts a collection of nearly 3,000 tongue twisters in over 100 languages: https://ivypanda.com/tongue-twisters. It’s part of the fun with words that we all enjoy no matter what our language.
Here are the two most difficult ones I know, and I give them to my acting students in my Beginning Voice and Speech class:
Ripe white wheat reapers reap ripe white wheat right.
The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
Another that’s very difficult to articulate precisely:
Unique New York;
Unique New York;
You know you need unique New York.
Try saying it a dozen times or more at speed without getting tangled in your teeth:
Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique New York, etc.
I use them both because they’re fun and because they’re great training for the precise, yet relaxed articulation we need both on the stage and in everyday life.
Try saying fax and facts so that the listener knows which one you’re saying. Try saying six and sixth with a clear difference.
The tongue twisters I use most contain clusters of three, four, or five consonants, or more. Sixth sick has four in a row (k, s, th, s) since an ‘x’ is really ‘k’ plus ‘s.’ Masked strangers has six (s, k, d, s, t, r). Without due care it will come out as mass strangers, so to hit all six consonants requires considerable agility with the tongue.
My students have great difficulty being clear with Ripe white wheat reapers reap ripe white wheat right, since they have a tendency in their everyday American English to cheat on final plosive consonants – ripe white wheat [DEMONSTRATING], instead of ripe, white, wheat [DEMONSTRATING]. Compared with speakers of other languages, American English speakers are often rather casual with consonant clusters like these, so beware of being overly precise if you want to imitate the native style.
As someone learning English as your second or third language, how can tongue twisters help you? The best ones will challenge you in sounds you don’t have in your first language. At the EFL Playhouse, you will find a data base of tongue twisters for every sound of the English alphabet. So if “th” or “r” or “l” are sounds which challenge you, browse this site for those sounds.
Do you have a good tongue twister in your language? Why not post it on Business Lounge to challenge the rest of us! Tell us the language, provide a translation, some hints as to why it’s difficult, and, of course, a sound file where you demonstrate it. Snapvine is a great tool for making audio clips you can insert in your posts.
I’ll leave you with this fun twister, (good for f, l, th, and r practice):
A flea and a fly flew up in a flue.
Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
Said the fly, “Let us flee!”
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.