‘l’ is very common in English and so it is important we know how to pronounce it correctly when we encounter it. What makes this difficult is that there are in fact two ‘l’ sounds. The first ‘l’ sound is called the light ‘l’ sound (lift, leg, loud) and the second is called the dark ‘l’ sound* (well, ill, Coal). The ‘l’ sound can be written with either a single ‘l’ (left) or with a double ‘l’ (Tall).
*The dark ‘l’ sound is also called the velar ‘l’ sound.
It’s interesting to note that while we split these into two different names, in linguistics they are both just called the alveolar lateral approximant (/l/).
Light ‘l’ sound
This is the easier of the two sounds to make. Touch the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth and then flick it forwards to produce the light ‘l’. This sound needs to have a vowel sound after it (e.g. la, le, li, lu, lo) and so will be found at the beginning or middle of a word.
Let’s try the following list of words with the light ‘l’:-
Dark ‘l’ sound
The Dark ‘l’ is slightly harder to get right. This sound comes after the vowel instead of before (like with the light ‘l’) and the movement of the tongue is different.
Instead of flicking the tongue forwards we will instead just raise it to the top of the mouth and touch the top. The position of where we touch is very important. A lot of English learners will have their tongue too far back which creates a muffled ‘l’ sound. Make sure you keep the tip of the tongue far forwards (as close to the teeth as possible). This will create an authentic and easy to understand dark ‘l’ sound.
Let’s try the following list of words with the dark ‘l’:-
Say these words and decide whether they have a light ‘l’ or a dark ‘l’:-