the L sound in American English Pronunciation

Pronunciation: The “L” in American English

Even though the “L” sound in American English may seem like a basic consonant and a simple sound to produce, I actually come across a lot of English learners who have difficulties in making the correct sound. My Japanese and Korean speakers often confuse the “L” and the “R” sound. Portuguese speakers have the most difficulty with the ending “L” because of the huge difference in their native language. Spanish, French and Italian speakers produce the “L” sound with a different mouth position. This different position will continue to create an obvious “non-natural” accent when trying to speak native-like English.

Because I know you want to improve your fluency and speak more like a native speaker (sounding natural and confident), I want to provide this lesson to cover the “L” sound in American English.

In this lesson you’re going to learn:

  • how to pronounce the “L” sound in American English
  • the correct mouth/tongue/teeth position
  • ways to practice and improve pronunciation on your own

Pronunciation: The “L” sound in American English 

Let’s begin with a quick sentence that practices the “L” sound in a few different locations within a word.

Bill and Lucy fill the vase with lilacs daily.

You can watch the video above, this week’s “Everyday English” lesson replay to see and hear how this sentence is pronounced.

As noted above, different languages will have different difficulties with the accurate production of this sound. Some English learners can easily pronounce the beginning “L” sound while confusing the ending “L”, for example.

It’s important to note that the “L” sound in American English has the same mouth position whether it’s in the beginning, middle, or end of the word.

The “L” sound on its own:

To accurately pronounce the “L” sound in English, you’ll need to recognize the beginning “eh” sound, while feeling the importance of the tip of your tongue. The placement of your tongue is very similar to the “T”, “D”, and “N” sounds.

Go ahead and say those sounds aloud. “L” – “T” – “D” – “N”   Do you feel the similarity? Can you see the similarity while looking into your camera or mirror? Check the video for accuracy.

For all of these sounds, the position of the tip of your tongue is pushing into the roof of your mouth where it meets your top front teeth. So, your tongue needs to be up behind your top front teeth (but touching the roof of the mouth).

While the similarity of the tongue position exists for these sounds, the main difference is the intensity and tenseness in your tongue when producing the “L” sound.

The best way to perfect this sound is to exaggerate it when you’re practicing in order to build that muscle recognition. I recommend exaggerating it so much that you actually push your tongue out and between your top and bottom teeth. Yes, when you practice you should see the tip of your tongue!

This will help you build the muscles needed in your tongue to produce this sound correctly at the beginning, end, or in the middle of a word. This will also help you eliminate the confusion with other letters, because you’ll be unable to produce the confusing sounds when sticking your tongue out.

Let me clarify that:

Japanese and Korean speakers often confuse the “L” and the “R” sound. It’s impossible to make the “R” sound with your tongue out, but you can make the “L” sound this way.

If you speak Portuguese, you often confuse the ending “L” and want to pronounce a closed “ow” sound. Again, impossible to do with your tongue forward.

Practice Makes Perfect

You must be practicing pronunciation every day, as much as you can if you want to notice an improvement sooner than later.  This lesson will provide you with the video of course for you to review, as well as practice exercises to put into your weekly (and daily!) study plan.

Because it’s important to build up muscle recognition and get comfortable producing the sound, I recommend starting small and building up to words and then sentences.

The “L” sound:

Practice this sound by saying the individual sound, which sounds like “el”. First say the sound, exaggerated, with your tongue out between your teeth.

“el” “el” “el” “el” “el”

Then practice pulling your tongue in, and saying the sound with your tongue behind your top front teeth (and touching the roof of your mouth).

“el” “el” “el” “el” “el”

Finally, focus on the sound by holding the sound for about 5 seconds. Do this first with your tongue out, and then with your tongue behind your teeth.

“ellllllllllllllllllll”

Words with “L”:

Move on to practicing this sound within a word. Below is a list of some words that begin with “L”, followed by words with an “L” in the middle, and finally words that end in the “L” sound.

lab – loan – lower – linger – locking

old – clam – bulky – influx – delayed

eel – pill – quail – Brazil – pretzel

Sentences with “L”

Finally, once you’re comfortable with the sound and words, it’s time to move on to full sentences.

I have a lab.  My flight was delayed.  I just ate a pretzel.

The lab lingered in an old city in Brazil.

Bill and Lucy fill the vase with lilacs daily.

 

More Guided Practice:

Many students ask me about my book recommendations or how to continue practicing American English pronunciation. If you’re not ready to invest in a course or private tutor, then my favorite book is this one here. It’s “American Accent Training” and it includes a CD for the practice exercises. It includes so much helpful information and a lot of self-study practice. The best place to get it (I think) is Amazon, and it’s where I’ve found it the cheapest.

*NOTE: The link I included is an affiliate link because if you buy it through my recommendation, I do receive support for my English lessons.
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