Have you ever wondered what the point of tongue twisters was? Ever felt like they don't do very much? You probably learned tongue twisters as a child. When you're a kid the entire point of tongue twisters is to go faster than the kid next to you. So what possible application can they have in real life?
Contrary to popular belief the point of tongue twisters is NOT to go a fast as you can. Not initially anyway. The point is to limber up your facial muscles in order to create greater dexterity and precision. Tongue twisters are extremely effective. When done properly.
Start slow and big
At the beginning want to over articulate a much as possible, use your entire lower face. Engage your cheeks, your lips and your tongue. (Your eyebrows, jaw and neck should not be involved.) Do this in the mirror and see how big and agile your mouth can get. Really over enunciate and warm up those stiff muscles.
Never sacrifice clarity for speed
You do want to speed up, you always want to be challenging yourself to go just a bit faster than is comfortable. But there are two things that are always more important than speed:
1. Precision. You should always sound as clear a you did when you were slowly over articulating. If words start to run together or muddy around the edges, slow down agin and revisit step one. This sin't about making sense, it's about being clear on every syllable, so you will pronounce some letters that you might gloss over in everyday speech like the T in “at”. Be especially aware of consonant clusters (like “ts” or “kt”) this won't always sound like normal speech. The point is to exercise your muscles and improve your articulation, not to reinforce your existing habits.
2. Keep the breath free. When you were doing it slowly you probably had enough breath for every line of text so breathing was pretty natural. As you speed up the temptation will be to hold your breath. Holding your breath will introduces tension and in order to be dextrous you need to be relaxed. We don't want to do any damage. Let the breath come and go freely, see how much you can separate the actions of your articulators so they work independently of your neck, breath and eyebrows. Still. Pronounce. Every. Single. Consonant.
Got it? Try these:
The swift flew through the thistle
Give me the gift of a grip top sock
Red lorry yellow lorry
I am the very model of a modern major general
Test yourself by building momentum until you trip up, then dial it back just one notch from there. Continue to check in with yourself and be vigilant about those consonants. Be a perfectionist and resist the temptation to be the kid who wants to go faster and faster and win the competition. This should be a workout for your lips, tongue, cheeks and brain.
Do 5 minutes of tongue twisters a day (properly) for 2 weeks and you’ll notice a difference in the ease and clarity of your speech. Not only will it be easier for people to hear you when you’re on autopilot, but your sight reading and thinking on the spot will improve too! Keep switching it up and you’ll notice it’s not just your articulators that are getting some exercise it’s your mind too.
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Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.