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Your terrific tongue

tongue; muscle; taste; talking; eating; taste buds; smell; smoking ;


Introducing your tongue

Well I guess that your tongue doesn’t need much introduction really. Everyone knows that the tongue lives in the mouth and that it is very busy.

the tongueBut what is it?

  • Your tongue is made up of lots of groups of muscles which run in different directions, so that your tongue can move in lots of different directions, and cope with all its different jobs.
  • Underneath your tongue is a soft, thin and smooth skin called mucous membrane (say mew-cus mem-brain). If you look under your friend’s tongue you will be able to see through the mucous membrane and see blood vessels. The tongue’s muscles need a lot of blood because they are working all of the time!
  • At the back of your mouth are your tonsils.
    • One is called the lingual tonsil (say ling-yu-all) and is at the back of your tongue.
    • The other two tonsils are called palatine tonsils (say pal-a-tine). You can see them when you look down your throat – they are at each side.
    • Tonsils help catch and destroy germs which try to get into your body. Sometimes there are too many germs, and the tonsils get swollen up. That’s when you get tonsillitis (say ton-sil-eye-tuss).
  • Your tongue is fastened to the jaw bone (mandible) and to the front of your throat. The part of your throat that you can see when you look past the tonsils is called the pharynx (say far-inks).

Your friendly tongue

Your tongue would get a good report from your teacher because 'It works well with others!'

  • tongue and toothThe front part works well with your lips and teeth and the roof of your mouth (called your palate), helping you to make different sounds when you are talking or singing.
  • It works with your cheeks and teeth to move food around your mouth when you are eating and chewing.
  • It moves saliva around your mouth to start the digestion of your food, and help clean your mouth and teeth after you have finished eating.
  • The muscles at the back of your tongue help to make the sounds of hard letters like 'g'.
  • These muscles also push small bits of food and saliva into the oesophagus (say e-soff-a-guss) which is the food tube from the throat to the stomach.
  • Your tongue and nose work together, smelling and tasting what you put into your mouth. 

Why doesn’t food go down our wind pipe (trachea) when we swallow?
Food and air both go through the same part of our throat.

  • When we breathe in and out, air goes easily into the trachea and down to our lungs.
  • When we swallow, we stop breathing, and a stiff little flap attached to the back of our tongue covers the top of the trachea, so that food slides down and into our stomachs and not into our lungs. That flap is called the epiglottis.

Have you noticed that if you are talking while you are eating, sometimes food starts to go down your trachea ('down the wrong way') and you have to cough a lot to get it out? This is why dad and mum, and your teacher, tell you to sit still and be quiet while you are eating.

A matter of touch and taste

Take a good look at your tongue in the mirror.
Do you notice how smooth it is underneath and how bumpy it is on the top?

The top is covered by hundreds of small bumps called papillae (say pap-ill-ee).


  • tongueSome of these papillae are like short stiff threads (called filiform [say fill-i-form] papillae ).
  • They are rough so that you can lick foods that are smooth (such as icecream), and they have lots of nerve endings that are sensitive to touch.
  • Have you noticed how your tongue is the most touch-sensitive part of your body?
  • Feel the round end of a pencil with your finger, then feel it with the tip of your tongue. Notice how much bigger it feels, and are there rough spots that your finger did not find?
  • Did you know that babies learn most about how things feel by putting them into their mouth and feeling them with their tongue?


  • When we look at food, our brain thinks about whether we want to try this food. We might start by touching the food with our tongue and lips (does it feel hot or cold, hard or soft?). We use touch, smell and taste to help decide whether something is nice, and if we think it is…. we eat it.
  • On your tongue, you have lots of ‘taste buds’ (between 3000 and 5000 of them) (inside the papillae) for picking up different tastes. They can pick up 5 types of taste - salty, sweet, sour, bittern and umani (savoury flavours) Most of the ones that sense salty or sweet tastes are near the front of the tongue, the taste buds for sour tastes are mainly along the sides of the tongue, and the ones for bitter tastes are at the back of the tongue.
  • The nose and the tongue work as a team for tasting your food - smell is very important to tasting foods. If your sense of smell isn’t working properly (like when you have a cold), foods can taste very….tasteless.

What a lot of work for our tongue! We might use it some more to ask mum or dad for a second serve if we really liked the taste of the food!

Have fun with your tongue

We live in a country where lots of people have come to live from many other lands. They brought their kinds of food with them.

So give your tongue and nose a treat and:

  •  try some of the foods you don't usually have in your house
  • ask your teacher if you could all bring something for a shared lunch
  • help mum or dad to try different recipes or foods
  • do an experiment with a friend by trying 4 different kinds of foods while you have your eyes covered. See if you guess right.

Other fun things to try:

  • curling your tongue into a tube at the front.
  • turning your tongue over.
  • touching your nose with your tongue!
  • eating something sweet while holding an onion under your nose.
    Did your tongue get confused?
  • Try saying 'red leather yellow leather' 10 times quickly! This is called a tongue twister - it really gives your tongue a good workout.

Your tongue twisters

Here are some of the tongue twisters you sent. Thank you for sharing your great ideas.

  • Rick Rider rode Roderick's rhino round the rocky river. Cameron
  • David dances at the daily Darlington disco with Delta. Sea-Yun
  • Tom tied the terrified tigers tightly. Ayantu
  • The terrified tiger tasted the thin toast. Ava
  • Dripping dripping dropping dropping dripping dropping dry. George
  • Sarah saw Sam strolling down the sandy shore. Lili
  • Betty bought butter but the butter bought was bitter, so, Betty bought better butter to make the bitter butter better. Luke
  • Seashells, seashells, by the seashore. The seashells she sells are sea shells for sure! 
  • Ladybirds like licking leopards' long legs. Charlotte
  • Careful climbing crews camped at the country's coldest place.
  • Beautiful biologists were blown away by blizards.
  • Sarah and Sam sitting at Sea World sipping and slurping Sunkist.
  • Crazy King controls cranky cuckoos who crave cookie crumbs. Luke
  • Leopards leaping lightly over lillies. Brook

Dr Kate – Helping your tongue

Dr Kate"If you eat or drink something that is too hot, it can burn your tongue. Spit it out, then drink some cold water, holding the water inside your mouth until the pain stops. Spit the water out when it warms up and have some more cold water. This first aid treatment is the same as for burns on other parts of your body. Did it sound familiar?

As you are growing up you can help your tongue stay healthy by not starting to smoke. Smoking upsets taste buds and your nose – smokers do not have a good sense of taste or smell. It can also cause other problems, like ulcers in your mouth or even worse cancer in your mouth".

If you want to find out more really interesting things about your tongue have a look at this site 'Science Kids' 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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