Teeth and tongue

Clear speech depends largely on the efficient contact of two organs of articulation. For example, it is impossible to make ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds without the tongue-tip and the teeth ridge meeting. Many people find it difficult to use precision when speaking at speed; this can lead to a wooly and indistinct quality of speech.

One of the most effective (and funny) ways of training the lips and the tongue to work to their full potential is through the use and repetition of tongue-twisters.

These exercises are of particular use to stage actors as a warm-up or daily practise, or people who need to speak publicly with authority. Having said that, they can be used to great effect by anyone wishing to improve their ability to enunciate well and develop crisp diction.

Some of the tongue-twisters listed may seem slightly old fashioned, but I guarantee there is no better way of maximizing the clarity of your speech. Incorporate voice work into your daily routine and you'll soon notice the benefits; clearer, more confident speech quality that will make people sit up and listen when you talk.

Repeat these exercises over and over, starting slowly and building up speed to become a much more fluid speaker and have great control over your tools of articulation.

Tongue-Twisters for the lips

The flexibility of the lips is essential in order for speech to be clear and well-projected. The lips are used primarily to make the sounds p, b, m, w and wh.

1, A plain pinewood police van,
Privately packed with protesting passengers,
Plies periodically to Plymouth Prison.
2, Betty bit a bit of butter,
But it was a bitter bite,
But a bit of better butter,
Betty never bit.

3, Mother made Mary, Minnie and Molly march many times round the room to martial music.

4, Wise wives whistle while weaving worsted waistcoats.

Tongue-Twisters for the tongue-tip and upper-teeth ridge

Most English consonants are produced by the tongue-tip and upper-teeth ridge. Many people have splashy ‘s’ sounds and weak or soft ‘r’ sounds. Are you one of them? These tongue-twisters concentrate on the following sounds; t, d, l, n, r, s and z.

5, Twenty tinkers took two hundred tin tacks to Toy Town,
If twenty tinkers took two hundred tin tacks to Toy Town,
How many tin tacks did each of the twenty tinkers going to Toy Town take?

6, Dancing dangerously down the dale dainty Dinah dashed dizzily past Dorothy.

7, Lotty loves lollies when lolling in the lobby.

8, Nine naughty nanny-goats nibbled nine nice new nasturtiums.

9, Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal runs his truly rural race.

10, Six Sicilian snakes sibilantly sang six silly serenades to six Serbian serpents.

11, Zorro zoomed zanily and zealously around the zig-zaggy zoo.

Man at a voice classTongue-Twisters for the back of the tongue and the soft palate

A lazy soft palate can give the voice a nasal quality. These tongue-twisters will exercise the soft palate and help place the voice differently. They deal with the sounds k or c, g and ng.

12, All I want is a proper cup of coffee,
Made in a proper copper coffee pot.
You can believe it or not,
I want a cup of coffee
In a proper coffee pot.
Tin coffee pots or
Iron coffee pots,
they’re no use to me,
If I can’t have a
Proper cup of coffee
In a proper copper coffee pot,
I’ll have a cup of tea.

13, A Glasgow glazier’s gloriously gleaming green glass gas-globes.

14, Granny’s grey goose greedily gobbled golden grain in Graham’s gabled granary.

Tongue-Twisters for the tongue-tip and upper teeth

Many people find it difficult to pronounce the ‘th’ sound as it is made in the words ‘think’ and ‘thatched’. People who originate from south or east London will very often replace the ‘th’ sound with an ‘f’ (as in ‘fink’ and ‘fatched’).

15, A thatcher was thatching a thatch,
‘Good morning, Thatcher,
The next time you thatch and thatch,
Thatch a thick thatch, Thatcher’.

16, Timothy Theophyliss Thicklewade Thackham thrust his two thick thumbs through three hundred and thirty-three thousand three hundred and thirty-three thick and thin thistles.

Tongue-Twisters for the lower lip and upper teeth

These tongue-twisters are designed specifically to clarify the ‘f’ and ‘v’ consonants.

17, A flea and a fly got lost in a flute;
Said the fly,
            ‘Let us flee,’
Said the flea,
            ‘Let us fly,’
So they flew through a flaw in the flute.

18, Violet vainly viewed the vast vacant vista.

19, You can have:
Fried fresh fish
Fish fried fresh,
Fresh fried fish,
Fresh fish fried,
Or fish fresh fried.

Tongue-Twisters for the tongue blade and the front of the hard palate

Tongues need flexibility to be able to cope with sounds like ‘sh’ and ‘s’ in close proximity to one another, as in the word ‘sunshine’. These exercises are great for training your tongue to work easily with the following sounds; ch and sh.

20, A selfish shellfish smelt a stale fish.
If the stale fish was a smelt,
Then the selfish shellfish smelt a smelt.

21, Cheerful children chant cheerful tunes.

22, Shy Sheila sat shivering in her slim shiny shot-silk smock.

Tongue Twisters for the open resonator

The ‘h’ sound causes a lot of confusion. When trying to speak in received pronunciation (or what has also been called BBC English, the Queen’s English or just plain posh), many people make the mistake of dropping h’s at the beginning of words like ‘house’ and putting them at the front of words like ‘area’, thus people refer to ‘the ‘ouses in this harea’.

These exercises will help you avoid this.

23, Has Helen heard how Hilda hurried home?

24, If a chicken and a half,
Laid an egg and a half,
In a day and a half,
The farmer wouldn’t half have a fit and a half.

The Mikado by Gilbert and SullivanA final challenge

One of the great creators of tongue-twisters set to music (also referred to as a patter song) was W.S Gilbert. Try repeating the Trio from the operetta The Mikado over and over, gradually building up speed.

25, Trio from ‘The Mikado’

To sit in solemn silence
In a dull dark dock
In a pestilential prison
With a lifelong lock
Awaiting the sensation
Of a short sharp shock
From a cheap and chippy chopper
On a big black block.


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