Normally, your tongue should touch the roof of your mouth when you pronounce the /l/ sound. The light /l/ sound and some of the dark /l/ sound, such as 'look', 'cancel', can be pronounced easily.

But the pronouncing of dark /l/ sound followed by a consonant is difficult in touching the roof of mouth, especially when I speak fast. 'twelve', 'also', 'Kelvin' are this kind of words.

So my question is as follows.

Q1. Is the action of tongue touching the roof of mouth is necessary in all situations when I pronounce /l/ sound?

Q2. When some words like 'value' are pronounced, should the /l/ sound and the /j/ sound be connected ? If they are not connected, does it mean that the action of tongue touching the roof of mouth doesn't exist? (Especially American accent.)

Thanks in advance.

  • Americans will often mimic an Oriental accent by replacing the L sound with R and the R sound with L. It exaggerates the fact that (as I understand it) Oriental languages don't strongly distinguish between the two sounds, and so the resulting sound in either case tends to be midway between. As to "twelve" and "Kelvin", I believe that if I spoke them a US native speaker would barely hear the L in "twelve" and much more clearly hear it in "Kelvin". In neither case do I seem to be touching the roof of my mouth.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 4:56
  • 1
    Reflecting on it a bit more, I don't think touching the roof of the mouth is particularly necessary for the L sound, but rather it's simply a sort of reference point that tends to occur when the L sound is adjacent to certain other sounds.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 5:01
  • 1
    I sometimes pronounce the 'l' of 'cancel' with the close-mid back rounded vowel, ⟨o⟩ Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:02
  • my tongue does not touch the roof of my mouth at all when pronouncing twelve, Kelvin, look, cancel It touches the inside surface of my upper front teeth close to the biting edge.
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:17
  • @marcellothearcane Do you happen to be a BrE speaker?
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 21:25

3 Answers 3


The question is not should it always be pronounced completely but is it always. The answer to the latter is no.

Many native speakers of English have trouble producing that sound reliably. Variations of this symptom range from a "w" sound ("Don't be siwwy!") to a kind of swallowed consonant which is produced without the tongue ever touching the palate. Not only is this unremarkable, but one of America's most famous network television news anchors, Tom Brokaw, made it part of his onscreen personality. Listen to how he says "British Co[l]umbia" in this YouTube clip.

If you get close to the sound, people will understand what you're saying.

  • Thanks for you answer. But I still have a question. Take the word 'value' for example, if my tongue touches the roof of mouth when I pronounce it, I will connect the /l/ sound and the following /j/ sound naturally. If I don't do the sound connection deliberately, there must be a short pause between the two sound. So, is there an effective method for practicing this pronunciation?
    – Zhiguo Chi
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 9:45
  • Speaking quickly, most Americans I hear would partially glide over the /l/ in words like value, not fully pronouncing it in favor of leaening on the /j/ sound. Sometimes I hear it getting dropped altogether, sounding something like "vayue". The important thing to remember is that both syllables of that word are somewhat emphasized (first syllable strong, second weak), and if you want to make a natural-sounding pronunciation you'll make sure to hit the initial consonants of each in rapid, conversational speech.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 9:55
  • [Continued] In other words, don't worry about clearly pronouncing the /l/ in words like value. It would sound artificial to rigorously enunciate that sound in that location.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 9:59
  • 1
    I've listened to that six or seven times not and I can definitely clearly hear an /l/ there with full contact, although perhaps it's dark there which would be very strange intervocalically ... Can also hear a full /l/ in colony for example. Have you got any clearer examples? That would be very interesting :) Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 15:52
  • It's not really full contact. He seems to be curling his tongue in back instead of touching it to the palate. Sorry you can't make the distinction.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 16:22

I agree with Robusto about 'should'. There can be no prescription on this.

Cruttenden (Gimson's Pronunciation of English, 2001.203) notes that "In some speech, notably that of London and the surrounding areas, the tongue-tip contact for [ɫ] is omitted, this allophone of /l/ being realised as a vowel (vocoid) in the region of [ö] with weak lip-rounding or as [ɤ] with neutral or weakly spread lips.

[my emphasis added]

  • 2
    +1 Yes, but in direct contradiction to Robusto's answer, for certain this only ever happens at the end of a syllable and never intervocalically in British English. It should definitely be avoided at all costs intervocalically and at the beginning of syllables, because native speakers won't recognise it as an /l/ in syllable initial position any more than they'd recognise a glottal stop as a /t/ in that position! :) - just in case you felt like adding that in :) You also need the right high vowel there ... ohterwise people still won't know what your saying! Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 15:55
  • I agree with you. I was merely attempting a not too lengthy response to the question "Is the action of tongue touching the roof of mouth necessary in all situations when I pronounce /l/ sound?"
    – tunny
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 17:07

When I pronounce the /l/ sound in English (native Canadian English speaker), my tongue never touches the roof of my mouth. Instead, it is slightly stuck out of my mouth, and pressing up against my upper teeth.
(To try this, make a /j/ sound, as in "yellow", and then force your tongue between your teeth while you continue to make the sound.)

Thus, when I pronounce a word like value, the only action required to transition between the /l/ and /j/ sounds is to pull the tongue back into the mouth.

I realize English is spoken differently in different places, but with all native speakers I've ever heard (British, American, Australian, South African, ...), it does not seem at all common to make the /l/ sound with the roof of the mouth. To me, this sounds French or Spanish (although I'm sure it's common in many languages). I suspect it may have been much more common maybe 50 years ago in English, but these days I hear it very rarely.

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