When you’re learning the L sound in English, it’s not just your brain that gets a workout. There’s a physical component to it too.
You’re training your mouth to produce a new sound – and this can feel extremely unfamiliar and even awkward at first.
But by doing targeted practice with plenty of repetition, you’ll get to the point where you can pronounce the L sound with barely any effort at all.
It can become as automatic as typing on a keyboard, tying your shoelaces, or driving a car.
To get you started, we’ve compiled six useful activities for L pronunciation practice that can boost your progress fast! What’s convenient about these is you can work on them throughout the day – whether you’ve set aside a full study session or you just have some extra time between tasks.
Top Activities for L Pronunciation Practice
Here’s how you can perfect your L pronunciation:
1. Check your mouth and tongue positioning with a mirror
It can be tempting to skip paying attention to mouth and tongue positioning when it comes to pronunciation. After all, you can pronounce your native language just fine without ever checking how your mouth and tongue are forming the sounds!
However, when you’re learning a foreign language such as English, trying to imitate a sound only based on how you hear it can be even more confusing. Knowing the right mouth and tongue positioning is actually like having a precise set of instructions – follow the steps, and you’re likely to be closer than ever to pronouncing the L sound.
To check your own pronunciation, say the L sound with a mirror in front of you and pay attention to your mouth. With the regular L, your tongue’s going up to touch the back of your front teeth, so you should see the underside of your tongue. Your mouth should also be in a slightly open position – neither closed nor fully rounded.
2. Slow down and stretch out your L’s
One way to know if you’re becoming proficient in the L sound is if you can hold it. Make a list of several words with the L sound in various places – at the start, middle, and end of the word. Then pronounce each word slowly, dragging out the L sound by a few seconds.
- Bowl -> Bowllllll
- Lost -> Lllllllost
- Follow -> Follllllow
This will help you be more aware of the physical sensations when you’re making the L sound. The L in “bowl” should feel different from the L in “lost” since they’re not the same kind of L–”bowl” uses a dark L, while “lost” uses a light L. Holding the L sound also teaches you how to apply the right amount of strength and pressure so your L can be clearly heard.
3. Imitate a native speaker
When you’ve reached the point where you can say the light L and dark L on their own, take it up a notch and try to imitate a native speaker.
If you’re not working directly with a teacher or if you want to get in some practice outside of class, you can pull up English videos or podcasts online. Listen closely for L words – you’re bound to find them quickly, maybe within the first sentence or two! It can be helpful to put it in slow motion so you can catch the exact words.
You can then try to imitate how the L words are said, with the option to record your own voice so you can compare. A more advanced technique would be language shadowing, where you repeat what the speaker says without pausing the video or audio – and while trying to match their pace.
Videos and audios are pretty much essential when practicing pronunciation on your own. For a fun, interactive guide that explains all you need to know about the L sound as an English learner, Creativa’s course on Mastering North American English Pronunciation has got your back. It has an entire video episode that’s all about the light L and the dark L, complete with L pronunciation practice exercises.
All in all, the course delves into aspects of pronunciation that English learners can miss out on – and yet are necessary for speaking English effectively. Curious about it? Here’s a free video straight from the course.
4. Look into words that contain both types of L
For an added challenge, look into words with both the dark L and the light L. There are actually plenty of them!
A quick way to find them is to think of words that start and begin with an L sound – for example, the word “little.” Then say each word out loud while drawing out all of the L sounds. This trains you to be able to shift quickly from light L to dark L (and back again), which happens often in regular English conversations.
Here are some example words to get you started:
- Lull → llll-uhl / llll-uhl / llll-uhl → Lull
- Likeable → llllike-a-buhl / llllike-a-buhl / llllike-a-buhl → Likeable
- Lilting → lllli-uhl-ting / lllli-uhl-ting /lllli-uhl-ting → Lilting
When picking out words, remember that you’re focusing on the sound, not the spelling. “Likeable” has an “e” at the end, but when you pronounce it, you end with the L sound (“like-a-buhl”).
5. Aim to read sentences out loud at normal speed
There’s a step-by-step progression when it comes to learning the L sound. You become proficient in the individual sounds first, then you get used to pronouncing them in syllables, words, and eventually full sentences. Right before speaking, the last milestone is being able to read sentences with the L sound smoothly and without slowing down.
Repetition is key to getting there! Take an article or book in English about a topic that you’re interested in, then start reading out loud while paying attention to the L sounds that come up. You might pause several times at first, but your speed will increase as you keep on going with the sentences.
As you get better at reading out loud, you’ll eventually be able to carry it over to your speaking. For targeted reading practice, here’s a handy resource: scroll down for a free worksheet with L sound sentences and phrases specifically chosen by our linguist. It includes practical tips too that you can apply right away to improve your L sound pronunciation.
6. Put your pronunciation to the test with tongue twisters
Going beyond normal sentences, you can even work with tongue twisters that contain both forms of L:
- Really leery, rarely Larry.
- She lulled the baby to sleep with a lovely and cheerful lullaby.
- Gobbling gargoyles gobbled gobbling goblins.
- Lucy listening to the rustling of fall leaves at night.
- All day long they sell lemon-flavored lollipops at the hall.
To avoid any confusion, mark down first whether each word with an L uses the light L or dark L (they can both be in the same word too!). Although tongue twisters can sound a bit unusual in their choice of words, they’re a great tool for getting better with the L sound!
These six L sound pronunciation activities have varying levels of difficulty, so you’ll be able to pick out an activity that works for you, no matter where you are with the L sound.
Although L pronunciation practice involves a lot of drills and repetition, it’s more effective when you add some diversity too, from watching videos with step-by-step instructions to focused reading. If you’re looking for written exercises to add to the mix, scroll down here to download a free worksheet with tons of quizzes and activities about the L sound. You can work through it at your own pace, and it comes with an answer key so you won’t be left guessing!