Unlocking the mystery of the dark /l/

Unlock­ing the Mys­tery of Pro­nounc­ing the Eng­lish Dark L Sound

Today’s tip is about unlock­ing the mys­tery of how and when to pro­nounce the dark Eng­lish  L  sound.

Have you ever noticed that the /l/ in lock and the /l/ in felt and sell sound a bit dif­fer­ent?   The /l/ in lock is called the light /l/, and the /l/ in felt and sell is the Eng­lish dark L sound. It sounds odd and not flow­ing if you make the light /l/ sound where you need a dark L sound.

Ok, so what’s the dif­fer­ence between the two ways of pro­nounc­ing the /l/ sounds in Eng­lish? The /l/ is light if it comes before the vow­el or diph­thong in the syl­la­ble. If the /l/ comes after the vow­el or diph­thong in a syl­la­ble it is a dark L.

There isn’t a dif­fer­ent let­ter or mark­ing in Eng­lish to denote the two types of L sounds. They are just both writ­ten as the let­ter /l/.

The light L in Eng­lish Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

The light /l/ is the one most peo­ple know about and know how to pro­duce. You make it by rais­ing the tip of your tongue up, and touch the palate just behind your front top teeth.  (the bony ridge on your palate behind your top front teeth). As you switch on your voice you push up a bit with the tip of your tongue. To be the light /l/ it has to occur before the vow­el or diph­thong, so it’s usu­al­ly at the begin­ning of words.  For exam­ple, long, loud, laugh, look, lis­ten, land etc.

Pro­nounc­ing the Eng­lish Dark L sound

The dark Eng­lish /l/ sound is made up of two sounds.  The first sound is a vow­el sound like the ‘u’ /ʊ/ in the word ‘put’, and then the light /l/. The light /l/ is made very light­ly.

Some exam­ples of words with the dark Eng­lish L sound are : always, fall, real, almost, called, felt, sell, bull etc.   Let’s take the word ‘real’ and see how we do it.  You need to move your tongue from the for­ward posi­tion for the ‘ee’ vow­el, to the /ʊ/ sound ( as in ‘put’, and then light­ly up to make the light /l/ sound.     ‘ reeʊl’    As you make the /ʊ/ sound, the mid­dle of your tongue goes up a bit before you just very light­ly make the light /l/. (don’t hold the light /l/  on long, and don’t push up as hard as for the light  /l/ at the begin­ning of words.)

Click on this link to have a lis­ten to both the British and Amer­i­can pro­duc­tions  with the Eng­lish dark L. (The Aus­tralian is the same as the British for this pur­pose).

Anoth­er exam­ple is is the word ‘felt’.  You need to move your tongue from the ‘e’ vow­el posi­tion to the /ʊ/ sound and then to the light /l/ sound.   ‘feʊlt’ 

Click on this link to lis­ten to the British and Amer­i­can pro­duc­tions with the Eng­lish dark L.

Unlocking the mystery of pronouncing the English Dark L sound

Of course when we say the words with the Eng­lish dark L in sen­tences and con­nect­ed speech, we don’t over­do putting the /ʊ/ in before the light /l/, but while you are prac­tis­ing you could over do it just slight­ly to get the idea. 

Let me know how you go with this.

Best wish­es,



 British Accent Train­ing

Amer­i­can Accent Train­ing

Aus­tralian Accent Train­ing


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