Sometimes speed matters

We should not undervalue phonetics and phonology in the study of language, though most teachers concentrate on reading and writing.

Having timed exercises can place knowledge in what an athlete or a dancer would call “muscle memory,” that is, the athlete or dancer doesn’t think before acting — it comes automatically.  The calisthenics of common tongue-twisters, which can be given both in English and in some other language, are fun and challenging, especially for students of English as a Second Language (ESL). They isolate and delineate each vowel sound, and can increase awareness of the various consonant groupings as well.

English (Say each one three times):

The bootblack bought the black boot back.

Can you imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie?

Fred fed Ted bread, and Ted fed Fred bread.

The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

She sells seashells on the seashore.
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.


Les Chaussettes de l’archiduchesses sont-elles sèches?

Gros gras grand grain d’orge, tout gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgerisé, quand te dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgeriseras-tu? Je me dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgeriserai quand tous les gros gras grands grains d’orge se seront dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgerisés.

Il était une fois, un homme de foi qui vendait du foie dans la ville de Foix. Il dit ma foi, c’est la dernière fois que je vends du foie dans la ville de Foix.

And one I learned in Greece, presented here in the English alphabet:

Say over and over, quickly, “dekatostritos siderodromos, dekatostritos siderodromos, dekatostritos siderodromos,” which means “Thirteenth railroad.”

Another speed exercise: Divide the class into two or three teams. Give them a word for which they need to find synonyms, and see which team can write down the most in 30 seconds.  Some suggestions:  friend, person under 13 years of age.

Another speed exercise: Divide the class into teams. Name a country and ask one team to give the name of the corresponding nationality. How many can they give in 10 seconds?  France-French, Albania-Albanian, China-Chinese, Brazil-Brazilian.

Then ask another team the questions, using a different set of countries and nationalities.  Who wins?

You might have fun devising the prize that the winning team receives. I usually tell them they will receive the respect and admiration of the rest of the class, for today only.

Some of these would be more suitable for ESL students, but even native speakers can have fun with it, and you may be able to devise other speed challenges.

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