Hardly a week goes by that I don’t challenge my kids to repeat a tongue twister that emerges naturally from our interactions. The truth is, because tongue twisters are such a fun and effective form of engagement in the target language, my ears are continuously pricked for this opportunity.
Two examples, one older and one more recent…
1. When my son entered first grade, he chose a black backpack for school. Of course, it was hard to overlook the wonderful tongue-twisting appeal of “black backpack” and this has since become a familiar refrain over the past two years as he gets ready to leave the house in the morning.
2. The other day he was wearing a snazzy new soccer shirt and I pointed to it and said “Sharp shirt!” I wasn’t aiming for a tongue twister when I said this, but I jumped on it just the same: “Okay, say that ten times fast!” Roy, Lulu, and I gave it an enthusiastic try and failed miserably (Lulu’s attempts sounded more like “shup shup, shup shup”)…but these two little words successfully served their purpose by promoting laugh-filled engagement in the minority language.
And now, like “black backpack,” I expect that every time Roy wears it, his “shup shup” (sorry, “sharp shirt”) will become a little trigger for language play. (Go ahead, give them a try yourself, if you haven’t already. Ten times fast, “black backpack” then “sharp shirt”!)
Appealing for all
I’ve worked with bilingual children for nearly 20 years and I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t find tongue twisters appealing. At the same time, I’ve taught English to college students and adults, and tongue twisters have always been a sure-fire hit with these groups, too.
The simple fact is, tongue twisters—in any language—hold a powerful appeal for all ages. A tongue twister is a playful invitation to engage in the target language and invariably produces not only positive effects on acquisition but a positive impact on the learner’s attitude toward the language, too.
Find them, create them
To make greater use of tongue twisters, you could start by grabbing a list of traditional tongue twisters in your target language. Try them together with your kids or post them in the bathroom or other suitable location in your home as captive reading material.
Here’s a wonderful page that offers tongues twisters in 118 different languages…
At the same time, I also encourage you to get your antennae quivering and create these opportunities within your day-to-day life, like my examples of “black backpack” and “sharp shirt.” By keeping this idea in the back of your mind, and staying sensitive to the sounds of your own speech, you’ll likely begin discovering tongue twisters that occur naturally in the course of conversation.
And write your own
If you’re feeling particularly creative, I also suggest trying to write your own, whether by yourself or with your kids. To me, the meanings of most of the well-known tongue twisters in English are actually kind of dull (“She sells seashells by the seashore”), so I had a go at devising some livelier ones a few years back. Creating a good tongue twister—which works well for both its sound and meaning—is actually rather tricky. Still, I persevered (it took many hours that I’ll never reclaim!) and came up with a list of 22 that have proven to be winners with my kids and students.
Please remember that I wrote these tongue twisters with children in mind so if they sometimes seem “childish,” well, that was my intention. I tried to create sentences that would function as tongue twisters and yet also bring a silly situation to life that children would find absurd and amusing.
I hope you like them, too! (Below is a link to download a PDF of the full list. Feel free to use them in any way you want. I only ask that you credit me for their creation. Remember, it took many hours that I’ll never reclaim!)
22 Funny Tongue Twisters for Kids
1. Brave, bleeding boys battle bald, biting babies.
2. Please put this porcupine in your pants.
3. The crowd of clumsy clowns crushed the king’s crown.
4. The detective discovered the deadly dagger in Dad’s dirty diapers.
5. The tiny teacher (on tippytoes) tamed the terrible T-Rex by tickling its tummy.
6. Noisy boys enjoy noisy toys, but noisy boys enjoying noisy toys are annoying.
7. The fat farmer’s five filthy fingers fed the ferocious ferret french fries.
8. Greedy Grandpa grabbed Grandma’s greasy grubs.
9. The peppy puppy the prince presented the princess produced piles of poop in the palace.
10. “You’re making a mistake marrying that monster!” moaned the mummy’s mother.
11. The hippos heard the hunter’s hiccups and hurried home to hide.
12. The big, bumbling bear burned his butt baking bread.
13. Six stinky skunks sprayed Santa’s sleigh.
14. “Yellow yarn is yummy!” yelled the young yak.
15. The twins took the toilet and tiptoed toward town to try trading it for toys.
16. My sister’s shop sells shoes for sheep.
17. Firefighters found Father frowning from a funny fever and farting fierce flames.
18. The nervous nurse had another nasty nosebleed and needed nine napkins for her nostrils.
19. “Juicy!” joked the janitor, his jaws on the jiggling jellyfish.
20. If eight great apes ate eighty-eight grapes, guess how many grapes each great ape ate.
21. The little lambs, licking lollipops, went leaping and laughing into the lava.
22. When the wizard winked and waved his wand, the wars of the world went away.
(Note: An earlier version of these tongue twisters was offered as an incentive for subscribing to my newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you’re missing out! See the subscribe page for the benefits this free newsletter can bring to your bilingual journey.)
P.S. You’ll find more language fun for all ages at The Funniest Activity I’ve Ever Done with My Bilingual Kids and Students.