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The American L Pronunciation


American L Pronunciation

The American L has two different pronunciations in English. In the beginning or middle of a word, the tongue tip touches just behind the teeth — on those hard ridges. In this position, the L shouldn’t give you much trouble. The difficulty begins when the L is at the end of a word. Because the letter L has a shorter, sharper pronunciation in other languages, this will carry over into English, where the whole word will often sound too short. If this is the case with your pronunciation, you need to put a little schwa sound before the final L. If you want to say the word ball, [bäl], it will sound too short if you don’t say [bä-uhl]. You may even need to add a tiny schwa at the end to finish off the L, [bä-uh-luh].

One way to avoid the pronunciation difficulty of a final L, such as in call, is to make a liaison when the next word begins with a vowel. For example, if you want to say I have to call on my friend, let the liaison do your work for you; say, [I have to kä-län my friend].

The Light/Clear L and Dark L

“Light” and “dark” /l/: English has two “l” sounds.  A “dark” (or “velarized”), formed by raising the back of the tongue while pronouncing “l”, comes at the end of a syllable. A “light” or “clear” [l] comes at the beginning of a syllable.

Not all L sounds in English are the same. There is a distinct difference between the L sound of “leaf” and the L sound of “pool” or “full” The second kind is called a “dark L” and is usually transcribed with the symbol, [ɫ].

Here are some words with clear L: (Keep in mind that the clear L is usually followed by a vowel sound)

  • leaf [lif]
  • black [blæk]
  • lose [luz]

Some words with dark L:

  • pool [puɫ]
  • milk [mɪɫk]
  • full [fʊɫ] or [fɫ̩]

Some words with both kinds of L:

  • lull [lʌɫ]
  • flail [fleɫ]
  • little [ˈlɪɾɫ̩]

(As you can see, English Ls that are close to the beginning of the syllable are clear, while those close to the end of the syllable are dark.
Some words beginning with a light ‘L’ and ending with a dark ‘L’:

  • Little
  • Loyal
  • Level

Light ‘L’ sample sentences:

  • Our relationship advisor has pleaded guilty for manslaughter!
  • How long is this going to last for?
  • Our plane is going to land in less than eleven minutes.
  • Can you put the replacement cartridges in a safe place, please? Absolutely!

Dark ‘L’ sample sentences:

  • I will tell you all the necessary details in the e-mail.
  • Eating small meals more frequently is more beneficial to your health.
  • Can you pass me the little candle from the top shelf? Medal and metal sounds the same when Americans speak!
  • Did you install the firewall?
  • It’s totally irresponsible!

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