Tongue Twisters

What is a tongue twister?
A tongue twister is a phrase that is difficult to pronounce. They can be used just for fun, and they can also be practiced as exercises to help improve pronunciation of specific sounds.

Some tongue twisters have a clear meaning, like the following sentence:
  • She sells seashells by the seashore.
This tongue twister can help you practice the sounds sh and s. It might be easy if you say it once slowly, but if you say it quickly several times you will probably mix up the sounds!

Other tongue twisters don’t make quite as much sense, like the following question:
  • How can a clam cram in a clean cream can?
This tongue twister can help you practice the sounds cl and cr. It’s also just fun to say!

Some tongue twisters are silly questions, like this one:
  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
This tongue twister can help you practice the sounds w, ch and the vowel sound ou/oo.

This tongue twister can help you practice the sound sw as well as several vowel sounds:
  • Swan swam over the sea. Swim, swan, swim! Swan swam back again. Well swum, swan!

Here are a few short tongue twisters. Try saying them several times fast:
  • Selfish shellfish.
  • Red leather, yellow leather.
  • Black background, brown background.
Here is one of the most famous English tongue twisters:
Betty Botter bought some butter but, said she, the butter’s bitter.
If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter will make my bitter batter better.
So she bought some better butter, better than the bitter butter,
put it in her bitter batter, made her bitter batter better.
So ‘twas better Betty Botter bought some better butter.

This tongue twister focuses especially on one of the t sounds that is common in American English. Many students ask about this sound, because it doesn’t sound the same as a regular t like in the word top. Some students say it sounds like a d or an r. This sound is called a ‘tap’, because the tongue quickly taps the top of the mouth behind the teeth. It is not the same as a d because when we make the d sound, the tongue touches the top of the mouth behind the teeth for a slightly longer time. And it’s not the same as an r because the tongue doesn’t touch the top of the mouth at all when we make the r sound. The tap sound occurs when we have the following pattern in a word: vowel + t + vowel OR vowel + tt + vowel. In all of these cases, the syllable before the t is stressed. For example, butter, bitter, batter, water, waiter, lottery. If the syllable that includes the t is stressed, the t will sound like a regular t (like in top). For example, return, retire, baton, fraternity.

In the word potato, which t sounds like a tap, and which t sounds like a regular t? (Hint: the stress is on the second syllable.)

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