Published 27th November 2015

ESL TONGUE TWISTERS

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You probably remember tongue twisters from when you were young and you may wonder how tongue twisters can relate to an ESL classroom. Well, you might be surprised to realise the tongue twisters actually serve a very didactic purpose; though they may be fun to try and wrap your tongue around, they are very good tools which can be used to help pronunciation and speech difficulties. So tongue twisters are just as useful (and enjoyable) for children as for adults. By doing a quick search on the internet you will find a million different tongue twisters, but there are a few things to consider before challenging your learners.

Firstly, which tongue twisters should you use? This can be decided by considering the specific pronunciation problems of your ESL students. If you find your students are having difficulties with the f th ­distinction, let them practise with He threw three free throws. Or if they are struggling with r versus l , go for I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. By helping your students deconstruct the tongue twisters and practise them, you will be helping them realise why these particular sounds are problematic and how to deal with them.

Then, you need to decide how you will use tongue twisters in your ESL classroom. It is possible to find a number of different tongue twisters relating to the same pronunciation difficulty, which can then be used in a number of games and activities which are a bit more enjoyable than simply asking your students to repeat the tongue twisters endlessly:

Running dictation: Print and stick up tongue twisters around the classroom. One student is the runner and runs around memorising the tongue twisters, which they must then repeat to their partner, who is the scribe. Students can take turns being the runner and the scribe.

Broken telephone: Whisper a tongue twister to one student who must then whisper it to the next student, until the “message” has reached the last student in the class – probably not in the same form as the original, but a good way to provide practise of the relevant sound(s).

The chain game: The class says a tongue twister, with each student only saying one word. This continues until the entire tongue twister has been said. If a student makes a mistake, the tongue twister must start again. When it is done correctly, it can be done again, faster.

Pronunciation can be tricky to bring into the classroom in an enjoyable way. Tongue twisters provide us with such an opportunity, as they are a great way to practise problematic sounds and they can be a lot of fun to get your tongue around!