Did you know that in English words, there are two ways that L can sound? Sometimes the two pronunciations are referred to as dark and light Ls, but I prefer to think of them as schwa (ǝ) + L and regular L.

Schwa + L – Tongue Placement: Back of Mouth

Sometimes L makes its own syllable. This tends to occur when words end in an /l/ sound like incredible, careful or magical. In these syllables (-le, -al, and -el), there is a vowel sound produced before the /l/. This vowel is an unstressed schwa, ǝ. When L makes an appearance in this syllabic form, it is produced as efficiently as possible after the previous consonant. For this /l/ sound, the tongue is raised in the back of the mouth.

There happens to be another time the /l/ sound can be produced with the tongue placement in the back of the mouth. This occurs when the L is in the middle of words such as in although, mistletoe, and albeit. This does not mean that every time there is an L in the middle of a word it is produced at the back of the mouth; there are exceptions to every rule, and the syllable structure of the word matters.

Regular L – Tongue Placement: Front of Mouth

The regular L sound occurs when the L is included in a syllable with other sounds, such as in the words language, cantaloupe, and love. In this context, the /l/ sound is formed just as in the above case of the schwa + L, but it can be paired with consonants to make a blend, or it can be paired with any vowel – either before or after the /l/.

Typically, the /l/ sound is produced with the tongue raised and its tip flattened against the bony shelf behind the top front teeth. With the tongue in the front /l/ position, there should be some space on the sides of the tongue where the air – and sound – can flow through. This tongue placement for the /l/ sound is most commonly found at the beginning of words (love, little, and lose) and in some words that have an /l/ sound in the middle (allow, yellow, and xylophone).

This kind of L can be in stressed syllables (like in the word language). In fact, a word that might typically have a schwa + L (magical) can be pronounced like a regular L, with the tongue raised in the front of the mouth, when it is stressed or emphasized in a sentence.

Do You Have Trouble Pronouncing Your Ls Clearly?

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