How to Use Tongue Twisters to Practice a Second Language

How to Use Tongue Twisters to Practice a Second LanguageThere’s nothing like a good tongue twister to get your mouth moving! In this article, you’ll learn how to use tongue twisters to improve your pronunciation in any language you’re learning. This is brought to you by our friends at Magoosh


Tongue twisters, as you probably know, are silly poems that use very similar sounds. They’re especially popular with children. Famous American picture books, like Fox in Socks, delight kids with tongue twisters that are hard (but fun) to read out loud.

Many other tongue twisters in the English speaking world are simply part of the culture. Well-known tongue twisters include sentences like, “She sells seashells down by the seashore,” and, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Using Tongue Twisters for English

Children like to recite these poems for fun, but they can serve a very real use for people studying English as a second language. For example, the tongue twister above about selling seashells could be especially useful to ESL students, because it contrasts the similar “s” and “sh” sounds in English.

The tongue twister about Peter Piper is a great way to practice English vowels; it puts different sounding vowels between similar-sounding consonants. It also combines vowels with “r,” a vowel-consonant combo that’s common in English but rare in a lot of other languages.

Using Tongue Twisters for Other Languages

Tongue twisters aren’t just for learning English vowels and consonants – they can help you master the vowels and consonants of any language. Korean offers a lot of tongue twisters that focus on consonant repetition and vowel contrast. Korean tongue twisters also frequently contrast two similar sounding family names. This is very useful for students who are learning Korean, because Korean family names are universally one-syllable, and often differ in just one vowel or consonant.

Here’s a good example of a Korean tongue twister, with English translation and phonetic transliteration:

Korean tongue twister:
간장공장 공장장은 강 공장장이고, 된장 공장 공장장은 공장장이다.

English translation:
“The owner of the soy sauce factory is named Gang and the owner of the soybean paste factory is named Jang.”

Phonetic transliteration:
Gan-jang gong-jang gong-jang jang-eun gang gong-jang-jang i-go dwayn-jang gong-jang gong-jang jang-eun Jang gong-jang-jang i-da.


Other tongue twisters can cover features more specific than vowels or consonants – features that may not exist in all languages. For instance, tonal languages can have tone-based tongue twisters where the pitch of the syllables change but the consonants and vowels remain virtually the same. Highly tonal languages include Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Hmong. Here’s a particularly good tongue twister for practicing tonal speech in Hmong:

Hmong tongue twister: 
Lub luv luj luj lug lawm.

English translation:
“The big car already came.”

Phonetic transliteration (without the actual tones):
Loo loo loo loo loo la-oo.

Here’s a video tutorial with proper tonal reading of the sentence.


Those were just a few examples of pronunciation tongue twisters. On the web, you can find tongue twisters in just about any language you’d like to study, focusing on nearly any kind of sound you need to practice.

Two of the best international tongue twister portals found on the web are the ones from Omniglot’s world language encyclopedia, and the 1st International Collection of Tongue Twisters on Uebersetzung Translation Service’s website. If you’re taking language lessons, be sure to also ask your tutor about language-learning tongue twisters.


This post was written by David Recine, ESL and TOEFL expert at Magoosh. You can learn more about the TOEFL in Magoosh’s What is the TOEFL? infographic.



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