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Diction exercises to improve enunciation

- articulation drills to make sure they get your message

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 10-09-2023

Why should you do diction exercises?

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

Diction exercises will help you learn how to enunciate well, to speak clearly.

An athlete does warm-ups and stretches before an event: a singer does likewise.

These drills using tongue twisters are the public speaker's warm up equivalent. They're an easy way to prepare and train you to speak cleanly, clearly and effectively.

What's on this page

Use the links to jump to:

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

The benefits of diction exercises or drills are:

  • strengthening and stretching the facial and mouth muscles involved in speech,
  • bringing to your attention habitual speech patterns which may be less than perfect.
A definition of the word 'diction'

Good diction, (enunciation), is NOT about changing your accent or making you 'talk posh'.

It is about clarity, effective communication:  making sure what you say is heard and comprehended correctly.

Seize the opportunity to talk *tosh

Seize the opportunity and talk *tosh, with aplomb! It will make a huge difference.

Tongue twisters have long been an integral part of a public speaker's tool kit. As well as being fun, they are extremely effective - a good way to get great diction fast.

Why are tongue twisters so silly? 

If you're puzzled by them because English is your 2nd, 3rd or language, don't be. Stop trying to find their meaning. Because more often than not, there is none and they are complete nonsense.

Or as my father would say, total twaddle. Tripe. Gibberish and bunkum.

They're that way because they are made up of specific, often similar sounding, word combinations that have been put together purely for the different ways they make you work to say them clearly. They were never meant to make sense!

* tosh, twaddle, tripe, gibberish, and bunkum are synonyms for anything that does not make sense. It's illogical, silly or stupid.

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Diction Exercises: Tips & Tongue Twisters

Tips for beginners

  1. The best way to start is slowly and carefully.

  2. Pay close attention to make sure the start and end of each word is crisp.

  3. Repeat the phrase, getting faster and faster while maintaining clear speech: that is ensuring the vowel and consonant sounds are distinctly heard. If you trip over words, stop and start again.

  4. 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!

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Diction Exercises for 'B' words:

Image: Letter B - with a set of wind-up teeth!

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.

Blue blood, black blood.
Black bug, blue bug.

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!

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

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

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For 'D' words try:

Image: Letter D - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Two dozen double damask dinner napkins,
two dozen double damask dinner napkins ...

Do drop in at the Dewdrop Inn,
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,
down the deep damp dark dank den ...

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Diction Exercises for 'F' words:

Image: Letter F - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Four furious friends fought for the phone,
four furious friends fought for the phone ...

Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions,
Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions ...

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For 'H' words try:

Image: Letter H - with a set of wind-up teeth!

How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt?
How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt? ...

In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen, In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen ...

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'J' word fun:

Image: Letter J - with a set of wind-up teeth!

James just jostled Jean gently.
James just jostled Jean gently ...

Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep.
Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep ...

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Diction Exercises for 'K' words:

Image: Letter K - with a set of wind-up teeth!

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

My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.
My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly ...

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 'L' words:

Image: Letter L - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Literally literary.
Literally literary ...

Larry sent the latter a letter later.
Larry sent the latter a letter later ...

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

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

Image: Letter N - with a set of wind-up teeth!
Image: Letter U - with a set of wind-up teeth!

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

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Diction Exercises for 'P' words:

Image: Letter P - with a set of wind-up teeth!

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 ...

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For 'Q' words:

Image: Letter Q - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss.
Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss ...

The quarrelsome Queen quaffed quickly and quietly.
The quarrelsome Queen quaffed quickly and quietly.

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For 'R' words:

Image: Letter R - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.
Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran ...

Reading and writing are richly rewarding.
Reading and writing are richly rewarding ...

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Exercises for 'S' words:

Image: Letter S - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Six thick thistle sticks,
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'.

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For 'T' words:

Image: Letter T - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin.
Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin ...

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

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For 'V' words:

Image: Letter V - with a set of wind-up teeth!

Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently.
Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently ...

Vera valued the valley violets.
Vera valued the valley violets ...

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And lastly, two tricky tongue exercises

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, a wide range of individual sounds, that are impossible to say the right way unless you articulate clearly.

Have fun with 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.

.

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Do you teach or lead a group of public speakers?

write-out-loud.com - tangling tongue twisters

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

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

Click for more info & to check out a preview


For more on speech delivery & vocal variety

Click the link to find information on:

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