Can you read these terrific tongue twisters out loud without getting tongue-tied?
She saw shy sheep
She sells seashells on the seashore
Bugs black blood
Rubber baby buggy bumpers
Betty Botter bought some butter
‘Oh!’ she said, ‘this butter’s bitter
If I use this bitter butter
It will make my batter bitter
I need a bit of better butter
Just to make my batter better’
Betty bought a bit of better butter
Now Betty’s batter isn’t bitter
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck
Are you copper-bottoming ‘em pans?
No, I’m aluminiuming ‘em, mum
River Wytham, River Wytham
Unique New York, Unique New York
Red lorry yellow lorry, Red lorry yellow lorry
Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
For Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses
Like Moses supposes his toeses to be
Minnie Mouse makes many marshmallows for Mickey Mouse to munch on
This snail is stale
Its tail is stale
And this is a stale tale
The Leith police dismisseth us, which causeth us dismay
A fly and a flea in a flue
Were caught, so what did they do?
Said the fly, ‘Let us flee!’
Said the flea, ‘Let us fly!’
So they flew through a flaw in the flue
Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran
Roger Rocket ran around the river and rented a raft to ride on
Phineas Foster fishes for fat flounder
Veronica Victor vowed to view the vanguard vicariously
When the very wet Venetian vet went to Venice
His voyage was viewed with vindictive regret
By a Venetian vendor named Verity
Canals in the Alps are comparable to a lot of canyon-like canals in the capital
The enthusiasm that Theresa Thomas told of
Took the terribly thin thirty-ish Turkish thespian Theseus Thurber
Completely by surprise
What is your favourite tongue twister in English? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.
If I came up to you and said ‘Woduvaigada?’, would you know what I meant?
What about if I added a main verb – an infinitive – afterwards: ‘Woduvaigada do?’
I’m guessing if you are a native speaker – if you have grown up listening to English your whole life – you will understand this phrase with a main verb:
However, if you are a learner of English – if you haven’t grown up with English as your main language – this lesson could help you. We’re talking about connected speech. The way that English speakers combine words in a sentence.
‘Woduvaigada do?’ = ‘What have I got to do?’ which becomes ‘What’ve I got to do?’
But how do we get a coherent sentence in English from a seemingly gibberish word? And why is it that a native speaker understands it – instinctively – while a non-native speaker may not?
The phrase ‘Woduvaigada do?’ comes from the first line of the original recording of the famous song by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (1976), above. (Super Tip: hear the syllables in more detail by playing the video at half speed or lower; just click the gear and select: Speed > 0.5.)
i. separate the words into content words (important words) and function words (grammatical words): here ‘What’ and ‘do’ are content words
ii. make any possible contractions: ‘What’ and ‘have’ make the contraction ‘What’ve’
iii. identify the stressed syllable in each content word: each content word has only one syllable, so it is stressed
iv. identify the stressed vowel sound in the stressed syllables: ‘What’ has the short o sound, while ‘do’ has the long oo sound
v. reduce the function words to make them weaker and less obvious: this is where we end up with the unusual ‘word’ ‘woduvaigada’
(We should note that it is also possible to read the sentence as ‘What do I got to do’, which is not standard English grammar but rather a mix of: ‘What do I have to do?’ and ‘What have I got to do?’ We sometimes hear ‘What do I got to do’ as a slang form, particularly in American English.)
The sentence has four weak syllables, marked in grey below:
The aim for the speaker (or singer) is to go from ‘What’ to ‘do’ as quickly as possible. The last thing we should do is put an accent (stress) on every syllable: ‘What. Do. I. Got. To. Do?’ This sounds awful and makes the sentence very difficult for a native speaker to understand, since we are relying on the stressed vowel sounds to give us most of the meaning of the sentence:
What – do?
If I said simply ‘What – do?’ while pointing at myself (‘I’) the listener could probably understand what I meant. The message is ‘What do?’ or ‘What I do?’ From this we may understand ‘What must I do?’ The problem is that ‘What do?’ has to be expressed correctly in English grammar, either via present simple – ‘What do I have to do?’ – or via present perfect: ‘What have I got to do?’ Native speakers are so familiar with the forms of these tenses that we can skate over them very quickly, barely referencing them:
In this cv connection the consonant sound t moves forward to join the schwa sound at the beginning of the contraction ‘ve’. t changes to d (assimilation), because of the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer
In this cv connection the consonant sound v moves forward to join ai and form: vai
A vc connection is what we want, so we leave it
Two of the same sounds meet: t and t. The first sound – t – disappears (elision), and the second t changes to its matching sound d. This is due to the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer
Connection 5: A vc connection is what we want, so we leave it
We further reduce weak syllables by substituting a schwa sound – the weak vowel sound in English – for any strong sounds. We do this here with the a of ‘have’ (changed to ‘ve’) and the oo of ‘to’. The o of ‘got’ becomes an a, again because of the mid-Atlantic accent adopted by the singer.
So we end up with:
A. Wo – we clearly understand this as the question word ‘what’ – despite the missing ‘t’, because of the w sound, the strong vowel sound o, and the fact it has one syllable. No other one-syllable question word has the strong vowel sound o. The others all have different vowel sounds: ‘where’ has eir, ‘when’ has e, ‘why’ has ai, and so on.
B. The second syllable contains the moved-forward t from ‘What’ changed to d, plus an embedded schwa sound from the beginning of ‘ve’
C. ‘I’ remains a full ai sound, with the v sound which moved forward in front
D. ‘got’ loses its ending sound, but it doesn’t matter because a similar sound d follows (t and d are matching sounds – the former unvoiced and the latter voiced). o has changed to a, as noted, above.
E. The vowel sound in ‘to’ is reduced to a schwa sound; t changes to d due to a personal choice about accent (mid Atlantic) made by the singer
F. The second content word ‘do’ has a long full vowel sound and is accordingly stressed by the singer
What makes this sentence unusual is not ‘What’ + four weak syllables together but the way the artist sings them so fast to make them all fit into one beat of the song:
‘What’ve I got to’ has to fit into the same length beat as ‘do’, which ends up producing the unusual word ‘woduvaigada’, which is understood by native speakers, but may come across as babble – or just ‘too hard’ for non-native speakers. Further emphasis is added by each of the six syllables having the same note.
What are the takeaways from this lesson:
Connected speech is a thing in English: we get most of the meaning of a sentence from the stressed vowel sounds: Wo – do. Learners of English have to actively learn about connected speech if they want to sound more natural and be less difficult to listen to. [You can learn about connected speech here.]
Schwa sounds are real – and really common. If you don’t use them then you will be stressing far too many syllables in the sentence, making function words too prominent and losing much of the meaning (see 1. above).
The point about this sentence is that the only two words that are important are: ‘What’ and ‘do’. You could put a variety of different function words in between them and the meaning wouldn’t change too much. The listener understands ‘What’ and ‘do’ and the rest could just as well be: ‘blah, blah, blah, blah’:
and so on. The main purpose of the middle bit is to make clear the subject – the ‘who’ of the question – ‘I’. The singer retains the full form of I – ai – rather than changing it to a schwa sound – perhaps as a way of stressing who the subject is amidst the muddle of syllables.
4. As well as the phrase ‘What have I got to…’ there are other similar structures to learn, which have multiple reduced function words. We use these unusual ‘words’ every day, so if you don’t know them, you could be missing out. If you can learn them it will be easier to listen to and understand people speaking English, for example:
and so on.
5. It’s also important to know common slang phrases (contractions) in English which represent function word phrases, because you will hear them a lot in spoken English. For example:
Not forgetting this truly epic sentence featuring no fewer than eight syllables with function words:
How other artists have treated the line:
Blue featuring Elton John (2002): ‘What I gotta do…?’:
Joe Cocker live (1992): ‘What’ve I got to…?’ then ‘What do I got to…?’:
Nataly Dawn (2011): ‘What do I gotta do…?’:
Elton John live at the Royal Albert Hall (2002): ‘What’ve I got to do’, but very fast, almost staccato:
Discuss the following questions with a partner or small group:
What is laughter? Can you spell it? Can you pronounce it? How do you write laughter in your language, e.g. ‘ha ha!’ in English, but ‘Jajajajaja!’ in Spanish?
When did you last laugh? Who or what made you laugh? How often do you laugh? What would I need to do to make you laugh right now?
Do you like laughing? What is the difference between laughing and smiling?
How do we laugh? What happens to our bodies, especially: a) mouth, b) eyes, c) chest, d) diaphragm, e) heart, f) breath? What does laughter: a) sound like, b) look like, c) feel like?
Where do you usually laugh? Why? What effect does the environment have on the potential for laughter?
What effect would laughter have on the atmosphere: a) at a party, b) at a business meeting, c) in church, d) at a comedy club, e) at a funeral, f) in an exam, g) at a family dinner, h) at the doctor’s?
Are you self-conscious about laughing in front of: a) friends, b) family, c) strangers? Why?
Is it easier to laugh in a big group e.g. at a comedy club or at the theatre? Would you laugh as much if you were the only person in the audience? If no, why not?
Is laughter ever wrong? When is laughter inappropriate? Can it be illegal to laugh?
How would you feel if you couldn’t stop laughing and laughed all the time? What would life be like? Is it possible to die laughing?
What is the point of laughter? Is there any evolutionary advantage? Does laughter send out useful signals, e.g. that the one laughing is not a threat? Do animals laugh? Do animals find things funny? If not, why not?
Can robots laugh? Do you think machines will be able to enjoy our sense of humour in the future?
Have you ever laughed till you cried? Have you ever laughed until you couldn’t breathe and thought you might black out, i.e. uncontrollable laughter? What were you laughing at? Do you like that sensation? Why? / Why not?
Can laughter be subversive? Can it be used as a weapon? In what situation(s)? Does satire make you laugh?
Do you prefer to laugh on your own or with friends? Do you laugh at the same things as your friends and family? Do you believe that laughter is infectious? Why? / Why not? Does the Laughing Policeman song (above) make you laugh?
Is there anything that you wouldn’t laugh at? What? Is it possible to laugh when you don’t really find something funny?
Do you know anybody who doesn’t laugh very often – or who never laughs? Why is that?
Are you good at making people laugh? What are the best ways to make other people laugh? How do you feel when a group of people are laughing: a) because of you, b) at you? What is the difference?
What are the benefits of laughter? Is laughter ‘the best medicine’, for example?
How would you describe your laugh? Are you a loud, moderate, or quiet laugher? How did you learn to laugh?
Describe the difference(s) between these different kinds of laughter: a) chuckle, b) giggle, c) cackle, d) guffaw, e) snigger, f) sneer, g) chortle, h) hoot, i) titter, j) snicker, k) roar, l) snort, m) howl, n) fall about laughing? Do you laugh in all these different ways? In what situations would you laugh like that? Can you give an example of each kind of laughter now?
Do you know the meaning of the following idioms about laughter? a) to have a laugh, b) to have the last laugh, c) to get the giggles, d) laughter is the best medicine, e) to be laugh-a-minute, f) he who laughs last laughs longest, g) to laugh your head off, h) to burst out laughing?
Do adults laugh at different things to children? Do women laugh at different things to men? If so, why?
Do you agree that ‘the couple who laugh together, stay together? Is it important for married couples to have the same sense of humour? Why? / Why not?
Do optimistic people laugh more than pessimistic people? If yes, why?
Is it possible to change your mood from angry to happy by forcing yourself to laugh, thus releasing the feel-good chemicals endorphins in the brain?
Do you make funny noises when you laugh? Do you ever say something immediately after laughing, like ‘Oh no!’ or ‘Oh dear?’ If yes, why?
How would you feel if you were walking down the street and heard the following people laugh? a) a baby, b) a group of women, c) a group of teenage boys, d) a lone man, e) a lone woman, f) a lone child? Why? What would be the difference?
Do the things you laugh at change as you get older, or remain broadly the same? Why?
Do you agree with this quotation from the famous poem ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler: ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone’? What does it mean?
1. Brexiter (Brexiteer) vs. Remainer (Remoaner)
Brexiteer = the boldest of the three musketeers, who loved breaking things asunder. (Not to be confused with brexitear = a tear shed by Remain voters as they contemplate Brexit Britain.) Remoaner = one who wishes to run a contest again and again until they win.
2. no deal is better than a bad deal
The original name for the popular Noel Edmonds-hosted quiz show on Channel 4.
3. leave on WTO rules
A way of doing something without thinking about the consequences, e.g. ‘Shall we pay for our meal now?’ ‘Nah. Let’s leave on WTO rules.’
4. crash out
To sleep after energetic activity, e.g. after a hard day on a Remain march or painting faces with the EU flag – or both.
5. People’s Vote
Non-technical, easy-to-understand name for a referendum.
6. kicking the can down the road
A fun activity for kids after Brexit.
7. Brexit means Brexit
A very clear way of explaining what something means, e.g. book means BOOK, grandma means GRANDMA, etc.
8. the will of the people
A document stating what should happen to the people’s assets in the event that Brexit causes mass death (see Project Fear, below).
9. Project Fear
A way of making the German word for four (vier) appear on a wall by means of light passing through a thing.
10. transition period
The greatest ever album by Gerry Rafferty.
11. Northern Irish backstop
A delightful folk trio from Ballymena; their first album was called ‘Blame it on the Backstop’; their second was ‘Don’t Blame it on the Backstop’, and their third will be titled: ‘Don’t Mention the Backstop’.
12. Withdrawal Agreement
A verbal agreement in which both parties agree to be very careful and avoid having children.
13. cliff edge
A prominent leave supporter, Cliff lives alone with his mother in Ramsgate, Kent. Motto: ‘Hey ho! WTO – let’s go!’
14. Brexit fatigue
The unfortunate condition of not having heard enough about Brexit for the past three years.
15. hard border
A tough guy who lives in a boarding house.
16. divorce bill
A situation where you take all of your money and either burn it or give it to a firm of lawyers – your choice.
17. extend Article 50
What happens when you make Article 50 longer, e.g. Aaaaaaarrrrrtttttiiiiiiccccccllllllleeeeeeee5555555555000000000000000000.
18. no deal – no problem
What you say when the bank turns you down for a loan, but you want to look nonchalant then walk away whistling to yourself.
19. soft / hard Brexit
What would happen if Brexit were pillows: soft Brexit = very comfortable and nice, but maybe too squishy; hard Brexit = something is awry here; it feels like there is a rock in it, but it’s good for your back – and your morale.
An extremely rare kind of Brexit Rhino, with union jack (flag) colouring and a dainty unicorn horn instead of a big rhino one.
21. future relationship
Unfortunately there isn’t any space to discuss thi…
Oops. Sorry, there was a slight error there. Gremlins in the works. Er… Right.
Below are the actual definitions. Match each definition to a Brexit term, above.
a) A 21-month period after leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 when the UK remains in the EU while a trade deal is (hopefully) drawn up.
b) Leave the EU without a deal. (Remainer term)
c) The official deal for leaving the EU, drawn up by the UK Government and the EU.
d) It would be preferable to leave the EU without an agreement, if that agreement was unsuitable.
e) Leaving the EU means a complete break with the EU.
f) Acronym for ‘Brexit in name only’. The Brexiter fear that a deal will make it look as though we have left the EU, when we haven’t. (Brexiter term)
g) A second referendum on leaving the EU. (Remainer term)
h) A payment of €39 billion to be made to the EU by the UK, covering money promised for projects and membership of the EU to the end of the transition period.
i) Putting off making a decision until a future date, as the deadline approaches.
j) The idea that there are varying ‘shades’ of Brexit, from virtually remaining in the EU (soft Brexit) to leaving without a deal (hard Brexit).
k) The fear that leaving the UK without a plan will lead to the end of life in the UK as we know it – a bit like recklessly jumping off a great precipice.
l) The decision to leave the EU, which was made by the majority of voters in the June 23rd 2016 referendum.
m) The idea that Article 50 could be extended by several months or years after the legal deadline of 29th March 2019.
n) A deliberate campaign organised by certain Remainers intended to spread fear and panic regarding the implications of leaving the EU. (Brexiter term)
o) Rely on default trading rules from the World Trade Organisation, rather than having a deal with the EU.
p) A guarantee agreed by the UK and the EU that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, no matter what the UK’s future relationship with the EU may be.
q) The feeling of being sick and tired of hearing about Brexit.
r) Leave supporter (positive nickname) vs. Remain supporter (negative nickname).
s) The idea that leaving the EU without a deal would be unproblematic. (Brexiter term)
t) A border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that requires a passport, ID, or customs form to cross.
Discuss the following questions with a partner or small group:
What is your favourite: a) book of the Bible (Old and New Testaments), b) verse in the Bible, c) story in the Bible, d) psalm, e) proverb, f) parable of Jesus, g) letter in the New Testament? Say why.
Which person in the Bible do you relate to the most? Why? Compare two characters from the Bible – one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. What features make the Old and New Testaments different? What do they have in common? Which do you prefer to read? Why?
When do you read the Bible? What is the best time of day? How long do you spend reading the Bible? Where do you usually read the Bible? Do you have a favourite place to go? Do you like to read the Bible with others or alone? Why? Have you ever attended a Bible study group?
Which version of the Bible do you prefer? Why do you like it more than other versions? Have you ever tried to understand the Bible in its original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek? How did you get on?
Describe your Bible. What does it look like? How old is it? How long have you had it? Where did you get it from? Are you thinking about replacing it? Have you ever used a Bible app or an eBible online?
Do you use any tools to help you understand the Bible, e.g. concordances, reading notes and plans, websites, etc.? How do they help you? Do you enjoy hearing the Bible read aloud? Do you listen to readings from the Bible online or on Bible apps?
How important is the Bible to you personally? Why do you read it? Have you ever been encouraged or helped by reading the Bible? Tell me about it. How do you apply the message of the Bible in your life? Do you think you could function as a Christian without reading the Bible? Are you ever reluctant to read the Bible? Why? How do you start reading again?
What would you do if you couldn’t read the Bible anymore? What about if the Bible was outlawed in your country? Do you ever take your access to the Bible for granted? Have you ever been bullied for reading the Bible or being a Christian? How did you respond? Have you ever distributed Bibles?
Did anyone teach you to read the Bible? How did you first hear about the Bible? Have you read the whole Bible? If not, what is stopping you? Would you consider trying to read the whole Bible in a year with a special plan or app? What do you think would be the difficulties? What would be the rewards?
How do you know that you can trust the Bible? Do you believe that everything in the Bible can be taken completely literally? If not, which parts cannot? How do you know?
Do you like to memorise verses of Scripture? How many do you know? Can you tell me some of them now? Why do you do it? How do you memorise verses?
Is the Bible relevant to non-Christians? How? How often do you talk to your non-Christian friends or colleagues about the Bible? What is their response?
SS (students) work in pairs or small groups. They access the hashtag on Twitter and select ten (or more, or fewer) tweets. T (teacher) monitors and helps.
They write the four-word phrases onto a sheet of paper, then delete one of the words from each phrase. SS could focus on deleting words from a particular word class, e.g. verbs, adjectives, or prepositions, etc.
Next, SS exchange their paper with another pair or group, who have to complete each gap with one word only – or more than one word, if you want the game to be easier. Then both pairs of groups come together and compare their answers with the original tweets.
Twist: SS have to suggest more than one word that could possibly fit, e.g. five words – the funnier the better!
The whole class come together and different groups present their work to the class.
Final quick-fire round #1: T (or a student) collects all of the four-word phrases and reads them to SS going round the whole class in a circle. The reader omits the final word and the student has to say the first thing that comes to mind, e.g. “I would buy…” “Sausages.” / “Bread.” / “A pizza.” – and so on. You could make it competitive by putting a five-second timer on each student – if they can’t think of anything, they sit out, and the game continues until there is one student as the winner!
Final quick-fire round #2: T (or SS) collect a number of four-word phrases from the hashtag on Twitter. Play the quick-fire round, as above, but this time SS must come up with the real final word from the tweets. You could play it competitively too, as above.