Diction exercises

- articulation drills to make sure they get your message

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 07-19-2019 |First published: 08-01-2006

Why should you do diction exercises?

Because your speech content may be great, you may look fantastic but unless your audience can UNDERSTAND what you're saying, your message is lost.

Wind up toy- a set of teeth with an articulation drill in a speech balloon

Diction exercises will help you learn how to speak clearly. An athlete does warm-ups and stretches before an event: a singer does likewise.

These drills are the speaker's warm-up equivalent. They prepare and train you to speak with ease.

The benefits of diction/articulation exercises or drills are:

  • strengthening and stretching the muscles involved in speech
  • bringing to your attention habitual speech patterns which may be less than perfect.

Good diction is NOT about changing your accent or making you 'talk posh'.
It is about clarity - making sure what you say is heard.

The most commonly known and used diction exercises are Tongue Twisters.

There are literally 'squillions' of them, each focusing on either a single letter, or a letter combination. Often they're complete nonsense - phrases and word combinations chosen purely for the way they make you work to say them clearly.

Tongue twisters have long been an integral part of a public speaker's tool kit. As well as being fun, they are extremely effective.

Diction Exercises: Tips & Tongue Twisters

Tips for beginners

  • Start slowly and carefully.
  • Make sure the start and end of each word is crisp.
  • Repeat the phrase, getting faster and faster while maintaining clarity. If you trip over words, stop and start again.
  • As an additional exercise for improving your tongue's flexibility and agility add Mrs Tongue Does Her Housework to your practice session. These stretches will help enormously!

Diction Exercises for 'B' words:

Here's a small video clip of me* saying two of the classic 'B' word tongue twisters: 'Betty Botter' and 'Bill had a billboard'. Click to play it.

*I'm a New Zealander. That's the accent you're hearing.

Alphabet block - B

Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, so Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better.

Bill had a billboard.
Bill also had a board bill.
The board bill bored Bill,
So Bill sold his billboard
And paid his board bill.
Then the board bill
No longer bored Bill,
But though he had no board bill,
Neither did he have his billboard!

For 'D' words try:

alphabet block D

Two dozen double damask dinner napkins

Do drop in at the Dewdrop Inn

How much dew could a dewdrop drop if a dewdrop did drop dew?

Down the deep damp dark dank den

Diction Exercises for 'F' words:

alphabet block F

Four furious friends fought for the phone

Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions

For 'H' words try:

alphabet block H

How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt?

In Hertford,Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen

'J' word fun:

alphabet block J

James just jostled Jean gently.

Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep.

Diction Exercises for 'K' words:

alphabet block K

Kiss her quick, kiss her quicker, kiss her quickest.

My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.

 'L' words:

alphabet block L

Literally literary.

Larry sent the latter a letter later.

Lucy lingered, looking longingly for her lost lap-dog.

Diction Exercise for 'N' and 'U' sounds:

alphabet block N
alphabet block U

You know New York,
You need New York,
You know you need unique New York.

Diction Exercises for 'P' words:

alphabet block P

Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
If Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

Pearls, please, pretty Penelope,
Pretty Penelope, pretty Penelope,
Pearls, please, pretty Penelope,
Pretty Penelope Pring.

For 'Q' words:

alphabet block Q

Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss.

Quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly...

For 'R' words:

alphabet block R

Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.

Reading and writing are richly rewarding.

Exercises for 'S' words:

aphabet block S

Six thick thistle sticks

Theophilus Thistler, the thistle sifter, in sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles, thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.

The shrewd shrew sold Sarah seven sliver fish slices.

Sister Susie sat on the sea shore sewing shirts for sailors.

Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously,
For nobody's toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.

(Pronounce the word 'toeses' to rhyme with 'Moses'.)

For 'T' words:

alphabet block T

Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin.

Two toads, totally tired, trying to trot to Tewkesbury.

For 'V' words:

alphabet block V

Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently.

Vera valued the valley violets.

And lastly, two especially for your tongue

Red leather, yellow leather...

Red lorry, yellow lorry...

And then, one more for good measure!

This comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1880 light opera "The Pirates of Penzance" .

Image: Drawing of the Modern Major General from the 1884 Pirates of Penzance  programme.

It's from the Major General's patter song and is guaranteed to make you work as it's the tongue's equivalent of a triathlon!

The lyrics include many difficult combinations, impossible to get right unless you articulate clearly. Have fun this excerpt.*

(I had a play with it too. You can listen to my effort if you wish. You'll find it below the words.)

I am the very model of modern Major General

'I am the very pattern of a modern Major-General;
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral;
I know the Kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I'm very good at integral and differential calculus,
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous,
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.'

Would you like to hear it?

This is me, Susan, having fun.

*Click this link to read the complete lyrics.


Do you teach or lead a public speaking group?

write-out-loud.com - tangling tongue twisters

You could download 6 fun and effective articulation activities based on these tongue twisters for your class now.

For $5.95 you get full instructions for each variation, plus printable tongue twister sheets.

Click for more info & to check out a preview

For more on speech delivery & vocal variety

Now that the 'tip of your tongue, the teeth and the lips' have had a thorough work-out be sure to stop by the other essential tip pages.

You'll find information on:

  • developing vocal variety (particularly important if you're a Monotone Martha or Martin')
  • using flexible speech rates (great for slowing a motor-mouth)
  • the secrets of using silence effectively
  • and breathing exercises especially designed to overcome the anxiety of public speaking while strengthening your lung power!
  • Your mouth utters the words but do you know what secrets your body language is giving away? Click the link to teach yourself body language basics and perfectly align your message.
  • Make sure they're laughing WITH you, not AT you! Find out how to use humor effectively. Get all the benefits of using humor effectively: relax your audience ...

And then of course there's public speaking games!

Maybe you are looking for great free word games to help develop confidence, creativity, spontaneity and fluency in your speaking? These are proven, effective and fun. Use them with small or large groups.

And if you lead a public speaking group and you're always on the look out for activities ....

You'll love my ebook!

Public Speaking Games E-book cover

28 public speaking games (with many more variations and extensions), full instructions, PLUS printable topic, tongue twister, poem and image sheets.

A complete one-stop-select-print-go public speaking resource for busy people.

Take a peek - find out more >>