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I listened a podcast about the pronunciation of a Chinese with words ending by "-le". And I found that I have the same problem (I'm Vietnamese).

We pronounce words ending by "-le", "-al",.. with the sound "o". For example: people --->peopo, circle--> circo, hospital--> hospito, chemical-->chemi_co, international--->internation_no

Why I think I pronounced 'people' as 'peopo" like the chinese in the podcast? Because I really can't distinguish the pronounciation of two words 'people' and 'peopo", neither do my Vietnamese friends.

I have two questions:

  • The word "people" is pronounced /ˈpiːp(ə)l/ I don't here the sound /l/ at the end of the word. I wonder whether the sound /l/ is not pronounced or it is really pronounced but I can't hear this sound?
  • When I say just the word "people" without a context, and pronounce "peopo", a native English speaker can understand I want to say "people"? I have this question because for me, the difference is very very slightly.
  • Related question: Pronunciation difference between “cycle” and “psycho”. Hope the answers there are helpful. – sumelic Sep 4 '16 at 22:56
  • By the way, welcome to the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange! I would also like to mention that there is a separate site especially for English Language Learners; you may also find it helpful to ask questions there. You can learn some more about the differences between the two sites here: What is the difference between ELU and ELL? – sumelic Sep 4 '16 at 22:58
  • Thank you very much for your answer and the site English Language Learners – NN2 Sep 4 '16 at 23:07
  • It is common for people whose native language is an Oriental one to have trouble both hearing and speaking "Western" "L" and "R" sounds. Most native English speakers who have exposure to these accents will automatically "flip" their listening neurons into "Oriental mode" when dealing with such an accent and will translate the sounds with relative ease. They would have more trouble if a native English speaker suddenly started losing their L sounds, without the Oriental context. – Hot Licks Sep 4 '16 at 23:52
4

I am from South West England and I don't pronounce the 'l' in 'people' etc. I don't pronounce it 'peepo' though, I don't round my lips or flatten my tongue. Even if I do pronounce it, for emphasis perhaps, I use what I believe is called a 'dark l'. My mother is Irish and does pronounce the 'l'. In an Irish accent the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth.

Chinese speakers don't pronounce the 'l' because there is no 'pl' sound in Chinese. I don't speak Vietnamese so I don't know if that's the same for you.

You are right, though. It's not important for you to pronounce the 'l' to be understood (which is the most important thing) and if you don't make too much of an 'o' sound at the end, it's unlikely any one will notice.

Similarly, I recommend that my students who struggle with the 'ths' sound at the end of 'clothes', simply say 'close'. In fact this is easier (certainly for British English speakers) to understand than 'clothe - es'.

  • This is a wonderful answer. Could you record the way you say people and provide a link? Or give us a phonetic transcription? Now I'm curious! – aparente001 Sep 5 '16 at 0:38
  • In Australia, I had the privilege of trying to explain that to Japanese and Koreans. Even with balloons on our throats, most took 45 minutes to hear a difference between "R" and "L" and after an hour, none could hear it from each other… only from me. I've read that the sounds we make when we're very young - less than two or three - alter the growth of parts of our throats or vocal chords that matter, making it easy for Westerners and almost impossible for Easterners to enunciate "R" and "L" differently. Growing up without those sounds, they never learn to hear a difference, either. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 18 '16 at 22:26

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