A Cool Look to Look Cool: Light L and Dark L
In today’s short article we look at the /l/ sound in English. /l/ is represented by the letter ‘l’ and is in words such as ‘look’, ‘lion’ and ‘melon’. In these words, we can see that ‘l’ is in initial position (at the beginning of a word) and mid – position (in the middle of a word). When the ‘l’ sound is in initial and mid – position, we call it a Light L (sometimes Clear L is used).
We can also find the /l/ sound in final position (at the end of a word). For example, in words such as ‘cool’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘rule’. This is called a Dark L. It is slightly different to the Light L and can be more difficult to pronounce. You can listen to the two different /l/ sounds below a) is an example of Light L and b) is an example of Dark L:
- a) look b) cool
- a) lion b) Nile
- a) late b) tail/tale
- a) laugh b) full
- a) less b) sell
The Difference Between Light L and Dark L
The difference between Light L and Dark L can be illustrated below (read from left to right):
LIGHT L: Starting position LIGHT L: Ending position
DARK L: Starting position DARK L: Ending position
We can see the difference is with the starting position. With Light L, the starting position is with the tip of your tongue, touching just above, behind your upper teeth. With Dark L, the starting position is with the back of your tongue raised slightly.
As for the ending position, Light L we can see the tongue is relaxed (in its normal position). This is because to make the Light L sound you must release the tongue.
With Dark L we can see that the ending position is with the tip of the tongue touching just above, behind your upper teeth. If you release your tongue here it will become a Light L sound, so be careful!
Have a look at the illustrations below showing the word ‘look’ and ‘cool‘ (read from left to right). Can you see the difference?
l oo k
c oo l
Tips on Making the Dark L Sound
To help you make the Dark L sound more easily it might be useful to imagine you are making a vowel sound (any vowel sound will do). From that vowel sound move the tip of your tongue so it touches just above, behind your upper teeth. This is important because in English the Dark L is usually after a vowel sound. In multi-syllabic words this is usually with words ending in ‘-le’ or ‘-ul’ ‘-ull’. These ending letters are illustrated below:
Illustration for words ending with ‘-le’ ‘-ul’ ‘-ull’
Practice Exercises for Dark L
Try to practice the Dark L sound with the words below (some are nonsense words). Remember to pronounce smoothly. Your Dark L should sound like ONE sound. Audios are provided for all the examples.
- fill full fall
- bill bull ball
- mill mull mall
- hill hull hall
- will wull wall
- shill shull shall
- chill chull chall
- brill brull brall
- drill drull drall
- battle bettle bittle bottle
- cattle kettle kittle kottle
- rattle rettle rittle rottle
- beautiful wonderful resourceful
- cheerful hopeful grateful
Try This Tongue Twister
Tongue twisters are a fun way to practice pronunciation. Many native English speakers have used tongue twisters as children to help with difficult sounds. You can give this tongue twister a try to help you practice switching between Light L and Dark L. As you feel more confident you can go faster! Have fun with it!
How Many Lemons Fell on the Floor
One little lemon fell on a melon
And broke the melon in two
Two little lemons fell on a melon
And broke the melon in three
Three little lemons fell on a melon
And broke the melon in four
If you ignore the melons
And count the lemons
How many fell to the floor?
(eleclassroom (c) 2018)
Recited at normal speed
Recited more quickly
Why Is This Important?
For some speakers, making the Dark L can be easy. For example, Arabic speakers have many words ending with a ‘lam’ sound, similar to English Dark L. However, for some speakers, especially from countries like Viet Nam, it can be a bit more challenging.
Practising the Dark L will help make your words sound more complete, however this might take time. Young native English speaking children for example, have difficulty with Dark L as their pronunciation develops. It is quite common to hear children say words like ‘bottle’ and ‘rattle snake’ without pronouncing the Dark L. Instead they end with something closer to a vowel sound. You can hear the difference with the words below:
Keep practising the Dark L and help give your English words that ‘complete’ sounding feel when speaking in English or modelling language to your students.
As usual, please leave feedback in the COMMENTS section below. It will be great to know whether this article has helped you with this difficult Dark L sound.
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Until then, catch you in the next article!