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Copyright Roger Bourke White, Jr., March 2004
Tongue Twisters are sentences that are hard to say in English. They are usually complete sentences, but their meaning is secondary to their pronunciation difficulty. For native speakers saying them clearly and quickly is a demonstration of pronunciation skill. American children hate them, at least until they can say them faster than their friends. For non-native speakers tongue twisters are a valuable pronunciation exercise.
Concerning "f" and "p", "z" and "j", "th" and "d"
These are consonant pairs that are often mixed up by Koreans. The sounds are similar, except that in each of these cases the first sound is a long sound. F, Z and Th can all be sounded for a long time before proceeding to the following vowel. P, J, and D are fast sounding consonants. The difference between a long sounding consonant and a fast sounding consonant is the difference between "fish" and "pish", "zoo" and "Jew", and "this" and "dis".
Warm-up exercises: buzzing bees, growling dogs, howling ghosts
Here are some warm-up exercises for improving Z's, Ur's and W's. Try saying Bzzzz, the sound of a buzzing bee for a long time. Then say Grrrrr Ruff, Ruff, the sound of an American dog growling. This is the R sound. For practicing the L sound, try saying La, La, La, as if you are getting ready to sing. Finally try saying Whooooo, the sound of an American ghost. Being able to hold these sounds for a long time (a few seconds) makes Z's, Ur's (as in Church), and W's much easier to pronounce.
Now, here are the tongue twisters.
First is a simple exercise in pronouncing a string of "L's"
I want the luxurious, lemon-colored limousine.
Make sure your "L's" don't sound like "R's".
Second is an American classic -- known to all American middle schoolers -- and difficult for American speakers, too.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
or the long version:
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
Saying long strings of "P's" is hard for any English speaker.
This third one is also an American classic:
She sells sea shells down by the sea shore.
Alternating "Sh" and "S" sounds force the tongue to gyrate all over the mouth. Whew! Be sure you sound these consonants properly.
Next is one that is easy for native English speakers, but brutal on native Korean speakers.
This fish smells fishy to me.
This is an "f" and "p" beginning exerciser, and an "s" and "sh" ending exerciser. If this is not said correctly, "fish" sounds like "fishy", and "fishy" sounds like "fish", or either may sound like "pish". Also watch out for "This" sounding like "Dis". You may have to check with a native English listener to tell if you're saying this one properly or not. This may be the hardest tongue twister of the lot, but mastering it will bring the most rewards.
Here are some tongue twisters composed of words that don't look alike, but they sound alike.
Fruit is a food. and Do you want beer with your veal?
The ending "t" and "d" sounds are important in fruit and food. The differences between "b" and "v" and "r" and "l" make difference between beer and veal (veal is baby cow meat).
This is an exercise in "F" sounds and the ending "lm" sound. Keep your tongue high as you end "film" don't let it sound like "filum." This is also an exercise in distinguishing between the long "o" sound in "phony" and "pony", and the short "u" in "funny."
The pony looked phony in this funny film.
The long "e" and the short "i" sounds are different in English, but sometimes hard for Koreans to distinguish. Keep this tongue twister in mind to remember the difference.
The eel is ill.
The next one is half review and half new:
Peter Piper from Philadelphia found a luxurious lemon-colored limousine in rural Roanoke.
"P's", "F's","L's" and "R's" all together. Watch out for rural Roanoke. Those "R's" need to sound like "R's".
This next one is for "Z" lovers:
The breezy zoo Jew had a xylophone and a zither.
Pay particular attention to "zoo" and "Jew"; these words must sound differently. The "z" sound is longer than the "j" sound, and the tongue is high and forward in the mouth.
A drama sentence featuring "r" and "l" again:
It was a wrong from long ago.
This next one is for "w" fans, and it brings out the difference between short "a" and short "o":
I walk to work through the woods.
This is a tongue twister about the ending "j" sound. In English "j" is an ending sound. In Korean a vowel usually follows. Don't let a vowel follow your "j's" in this one.
The judge liked fudge and he kept it in the fridge.
Fudge is a chocolate candy, and fridge is short for refrigerator. Watch your word endings on this one. Judge, fudge and fridge should not sound like judgy, fudgy or fridgy.
An ending tester. Ch and Sh should end without an "e" or "y" sound following them.
Mrs. Rich had lunch at the Finnish restaurant on Church Street.
Watch out for Church. This is a word many Koreans learn early in their English usage before they have developed an ear for English, so it may be said poorly.
Two more American classics:
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
This is the world's shortest tragedy (sad story).
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?
Have fun with these tongue twisters, and use them as warm-ups. Practice, practice, practice. Remember that the purpose of tongue-twisters is to improve your pronunciation. If you develop the habit of saying these correctly and quickly, then your English pronunciation will improve dramatically, and you will be understood more quickly by native speakers and Koreans alike.
Bonus Tongue Twisters
How many vowels can cl be followed with? This is also a British-American tongue twister. The British pronunciation of clerk sounds like clark to an American.
Clark the clerk clucked as he watched the clock click.
V's, L's and R's in profusion.
Vicious Vic lived on the Liver River.
This is to work on the short a short o vowel difference.
I want to be there, but I won't
Some English words can function as different parts of speech. When they do, the emphasis between the syllables often changes to signal that change. "Separate" in this next tongue twister is an example, and "lives" in the following one.
Separate your trash and put it in separate containers.
A Buddhist lives a thousand lives.
The ending th's requires some tricky tongue work. Give this a try.
The North's huge amount of rice.
Another long e, short i exerciser, and a v-b exerciser. as well.
The cheap vase has a chipped base.
I hope these tongue twisters have been helpful to you.
You may also enjoy some of the books/e-books I have written. They are available at Author House -- Amazon -- Barnes and Noble and other fine book sellers, search for "Roger Bourke White Jr."
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