Episode Transcript

The L in English

#102 | 11:09

Hey, guys. It’s Hadar, and this is the Accent’s Way. Today we are going to talk about one of the most common and tricky sounds for non-native speakers – the American L.

There are actually two different L sounds: the dark L and the light L, so today we’re going to talk about both of them. And also, another reason why it’s so difficult is because there are many substitutions to both of these sounds. I’m also going to talk about the common substitutions that non-native speakers make.

Now, if you find that I’m talking about something that is less relevant to you, then skip forward to the part where I do talk about something that is relevant to you, a substitution that you are actually making.

Let’s begin by talking about the light L. The light L appears at the beginning of words, or before vowels in the middle of the word. For example, “light”, “allow”, “belly”, and “listen”. To make the L sound you bring the tip of the tongue up to touch the roof of the mouth. So this part, just the tip, should go up and touch that little bump right behind the teeth. It shouldn’t necessarily touch the teeth, although it’s not a huge problem, L, L, it’s sort of the same sound, but it has to be a continuous sound. ‘LLL’, right?

Now, two common mistakes made by non-native speakers are: first, is what I call the ‘ultra light’ L. This is relevant for Spanish speakers or French speakers or Hebrew speakers. This is when the tongue does go up and touches the upper palate, but the sound lacks this tension and muscle. Listen: ‘light’, ‘listen’, instead of “Light”, “Listen”.

What’s the difference? It feels like that in addition to bringing the tip of the tongue up and pushing the air out to pass between the sides of the tongue, I’m also engaging the back of the tongue. ‘L’. It feels like as if I’m pushing the tongue forward and adding some tension here. So I feel like I’m pushing down the root of the tongue to create the sound: “Listen”, “Law”, and not ‘listen’, ‘law’. “Allow”, and not ‘allow’.

Now, it’s not a huge problem to substitute it with the ultra light L. Everyone will still understand you, but if you want to be more accurate and get that American or English sound, then you should definitely practice engaging the back of the tongue a little more. Now, if it’s still not clear, wait until they explain the dark L, and then I think that’s definitely gonna help you.

Another common substitution, usually relevant for Korean speakers or Japanese speakers, is to substitute this L sound with a light flap or an R sound: ‘/r/ight’, ‘/r/isten, okay? So there is a light tap there, but it’s still sounds like an R sound. So here’s the trick: you got to create contact between the tip of the tongue and the upper palate, continuous contact. So you want to be able to hold out the sound – ‘LLLight’.

When you’re pronouncing your native L sound or R sound, it’s a very abrupt sound and it’s not a continuous sound. So if you try to hold it out, you won’t be able to, if you’re going back to old habits, right? So, make sure that you bring the tongue up, you can even hold it, make the sound and then practice it in many, many words that have L’s at the beginning or L’s before vowels in the middle of the word.

And if you want a list of words to practice with, you can click on the link below and get a list of words, phrases, sentences of the light L and dark L to work with, with my recording. So that’s very, very effective, very effective way to practice. Okay. So that was the light L. Let’s practice it in a few more words. Play. Close. Clean. Allow. Shallow. Lost.

Now, let’s talk about the dark L. The dark L is not really an L. Yes, there, I said it. It’s not really an L. It’s this weird, vague sound that colors the vowel right before the L. The dark L appears after vowels or before consonants, also in the middle of the word, but usually at the end of words.

So if it’s hard for you to remember where it is, focus on L’s that are at the end of the word. For example: well, fall, milk. It can also be at the end of the word, even if it’s a part of a consonant cluster, a bunch of consonants put together.

Now, what’s the difference between this light L sound that we practiced -“light”, and this dark L at the end – “well”? So, you hear the quality of the sound, right? It’s really deep and dark. I don’t even have to bring the tip of the tongue to touch the upper palate to make the L sound, the dark L sound, because it’s more about that tense sound right before the L, then it is about actually making the L sound.

Listen – “well”, that’s the dark L. “Well”, right? I kept the tongue down. I could bring the tip of the tongue up. Listen – “well”, but only at the end, only after I create this nice tense sound, and then I bring the tip of the tongue up.

So the dark L actually affects the vowel before the L, okay. That’s what it’s about. To make the sound you want to push the back of the tongue down so as if you’re swallowing something. Some languages have actually this sound, this ‘L’ sound, or you have to engage the root of the tongue, right. It’s when something is really disgusting, try it. Okay, so let’s try swallowing together. ‘L’, right? That’s the sound.

Let’s practice it in a few words. Wall. Help, help. Girl, right – here, we have an R and then this ‘L’ sound, and then the L – “girl”. Right? Let’s assume that I bring the tip of the tongue up at the end. “girl”. Right? It is not ‘gerl’, don’t bring the tongue up to quickly. Create that weird sound and then bring the tongue up, or just don’t bring the tongue up so you can practice it with your finger on your tongue, forcing it to stay down and still trying to make this L sound. “Girl. Well. He’ll”. Right?

Now, two quick tricks. If there is a high E sound before the dark L, you hear a ‘y’ sound right before the L. ‘hea[y]l’, ‘hea[y]l’. ‘pee[y]l’, ‘dea[y]l’. It’s not ‘deal’. Even if I’m making a darker L here – deaL’, right, or a heavy L it is not ‘deal’, but it’s ‘dea[y]l’, right. I’m dropping the back of the tongue before creating the L sound. ‘fee[y]l – “I feel ya”.

Same thing with the tense ‘oo’ sound, only this time we add a W sound. ‘poo[w]l’. It’s not ‘pool’ ‘pool’ – ‘poo[w]l’. ‘rue[w]l’, ‘coo[w]l’. “That’s so cool”. It’s not “that’s so ‘coo/l/'”. ‘coo[w]l’.

So, two common substitutions made by non-native speakers. So, first of all, all you light L makers, ultra light L makers – like French speakers, Spanish speakers, and Hebrew speakers. It is very, very important not to make an ultra light L at the end of words. So, you should definitely work on your dark L more than even working on your light L. Because when you put an ultra light L at the end of words – ‘wel’, instead of “well”, it may not be perceived as an L.

Native speakers might think that you’re making this weird substitution of an R sound or another sound, or a W sound, right? So they’ll think that you’re saying “where” instead of “well”. Because the L sound at the end is not about lifting the tongue up, it’s not about that l-l-l sound, it’s about that L-L-L weird sound. “Well”, “help”. “Wall”, and not ‘wal’.

Another common mistake made by non-native speakers, again, like Korean speakers or sometimes Portuguese speakers, is that they make a W sound instead of an O sound: ‘we[w]’, ‘we[w]’, ‘he[w]p’. Okay? So here it’s closer to the dark L, but notice that it’s still not this L sound, it’s not “help”. Don’t round your lips so much, it’s not a W sound, right? “hole”, right, it’s not ‘ho[w]’. So you really have to focus on creating this tension in the back and not trusting your lips to create this sound.

Okay, that’s it. Now I want to hear from you. So let me know in the comments below where you’re from and what is the most difficult L word you’ve ever come across, or if you ever had difficulties expressing yourself because people couldn’t understand you because of the L sound. Let me know.

If you want to practice it more, if you want to practice the L sound, click on the link below and get a list of words and phrases and sentences with my audio. Okay? So all you have to do is put in your email address and you’ll get it straight to your inbox. This is a good opportunity to say, subscribe to my channel if you haven’t subscribed yet, and click on the bell to get notifications.

Thank you so much for watching. And don’t forget that making mistakes is the only way to really getting it right. Have a wonderful week, and I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.