The L sound is one of the most common English consonant sounds. However, it can be tough for children to pronounce. This can concern you as a parent, especially since you don’t want your child to fall behind.
It is typical for most children to pronounce the sound by the time they are five years old. Some others usually require assistance. Here’s what you must know about teaching your child to say the L sound.
Describing the L Sound
The L sound is made by lightly touching the back of your tongue directly behind your front top teeth, where the alveolar ridge is located. It is a fairly simple speech sound. As you pronounce the L sound, the airflow around your tongue's sides is released.
Naturally, a child begins to make the sound of L at the age of three or so. At this age, children are beginning to make speech sounds correctly and learning to make various speech sounds with their mouths and tongues. By the time they are five years old, most children should have mastered the L sound. You would note this quickly, especially if they’re a big talker.
Beyond this time, your child may be having a speech delay, and you should consider speech therapy for your child.
Common Issues Children Face When Trying to Pronounce the L Sound
Teaching your kid the articulation of the L sound can be a bit tricky. It is one of those speech sounds that may not come naturally. Without articulation therapy or speech therapy for them with a speech pathologist, some of the common issues or speech errors children face when trying to say the L sound include:
Sound Substitutions: Children sometimes replace the L sound with other consonant sounds like W or Y. This is why you will hear the word "wove" instead of love and “yittle” instead of little.
Wrong Tongue Position: Children might not get the correct tongue placement. They could push it back too far or not touch it at all instead of touching the roof of the mouth.
Omitting the Speech Sound: Some children may just entirely skip the L sound in words. For example, instead of butter, they may say "bu'er."
Why Does My Child Mispronounce the L Sound?
Children who cannot yet pronounce the L sound tend to mispronounce it by substituting it with another sound, such as the w sound – this also happens with the R sound.
The R sound belongs in the same category of tough consonants as the L sound. This misinterpretation of sound patterns is known as a phonological process, and it is a typical aspect of early sound and language development in children, as well as developing phonics.
Gliding is one of the most typical forms of phonological processes for the L sound during phonics development. One easy way to recognize this is when your little one pronounces the L sound as "W" or "Y."
You notice their articulation of words like "wam" instead of lamb, “wook” instead of look, and "yeyow" instead of yellow when speaking. “Wook” is a pretty common occurrence because children tend to want to show a lot.
Speech errors like this happen because they stop the air coming out of their mouth instead of letting it through the space between their tongue and the roof of the mouth. However, gliders should vanish by the time they are five years old, or they might need speech therapy (SLP) with a speech pathologist.
Sometimes, your child might resort to vocalization when saying a word that ends with the L sound. They may pronounce the L as a vowel sound. A classic example is "bao" rather than "ball." You would pick these up quicker if you have a big talker.
How to Teach Your Child to Produce the L Sound
Here are some of the techniques and strategies in articulation therapy or speech therapy for your child that you can use to teach them how to pronounce the L sound:
Oral Motor Exercises
You should consider strengthening your child’s oral motor skills before you focus on teaching them how to pronounce the L sound.
These speech therapy exercises from a speech pathologist will help your little one develop the muscles and coordination they need for precise speech production. Tongue-strengthening exercises work the tongue muscles directly, including the sides of the tongue, such as blowing bubbles or licking a lollipop.
Jaw-strengthening exercises, on the other hand, develop the jaw muscles that support tongue movement. Examples of jaw-strengthening exercises include yawning or chewing gum.
Another way to help your child easily learn the L sound is by demonstrating the process to them. Children can learn a lot from watching. So, you want to show them how your tongue makes the L sound by touching the roof of your mouth.
Next, you want to help them understand where to place their tongue, which is the alveolar ridge, right behind their front teeth. They may have a hard time understanding this at first, even with your demonstration.
They may not know where to place their tongue. Your demonstration should provide more clarity for your child. For loads of practice, encourage your child to be a big talker.
Sometimes, your child just needs a gentle touch to get the guidance they need. To help your child feel where the tongue should be for the L sound, gently touch their tongue with your finger or a tongue depressor.
You can assist them by demonstrating where their tongue should stay by using your finger or a lollipop to touch it, including the sides of the tongue. Next, ask your child to put the tip of the tongue there, showing them where you put the tip of your tongue, too.
This tactile cue can provide proprioceptive feedback, assisting your child in developing an understanding of where their tongue is located in space.
Your child may find it easier to understand where to place their tongue if they can visualize it. You can use a mirror to help them do this. The tip of the tongue should lightly touch the uneven alveolar ridge directly behind the frontal top teeth.
This visual cue can help your child learn the precise positioning of their tongue alongside the sides of the tongue. You can also put the tip of your tongue there and show it to them. Once they have successfully gotten where to place their tongue, you want to teach them how to make airflow without moving their tongue.
Allow them to relax with their tongue in position and gently push air through the sides of their mouth. All they have to do to produce the L sound is raise their voice or get them to vibrate their vocal folds to make the sound "loud."
Differentiating the L sound from other sounds is just as essential as learning to make the sound. Consider allowing your child to participate in auditory discriminatory exercises. This will help them distinguish the subtle differences between the L sound and other similar sounds like w (as in water) and r (as in road).
You and your child can also play games where they have to identify words that start with different sounds. These games will help them develop the auditory skills they need for clear speech and fix speech sound disorders.
Articulation of the L Sound in Syllables
It's time to introduce syllables to your child once they can make the letter L independently. Ensure you introduce all vowels with the same sound in the initial and final word positions when introducing syllables.
Start with the basics. Help your child understand how the L sound works in simple syllables like "la la la," "le," "li," "lo," and "lu."
Here's what you can do:
As you pronounce the syllables aloud, urge your child to follow suit.
Together, practice saying these syllables again. Be playful and lighthearted.
Employ visual aids if necessary. You could show them images of words that have the letter L in them or that begin with it.
Articulation of the L Sound in Words
Once your child can pronounce the L sound in syllables comfortably, it’s time to step up to words. You should begin with simple words with one or two syllables with the L sound.
Some words to get you started include sell, kettle, fill, bell, model, ball, list, let, still, leg, lid, log, call, lip, fell, small, tall, spell, less, lap.
To make it easier for your child to learn the L sound in words, try pronouncing the word slowly and emphasize the "L" sound. Ask your child to repeat the word after you. If they struggle, break it down into syllables.
Articulation of the L Sound in Sentences
Once your child is comfortable with the L sound in words, the next step is to help them use the "L" sound in sentences. This will assist your child in learning to use the L sound in various contexts and at a more natural pace. Here's how:
Form short sentences that include words with the "L" sound.
Read the sentences aloud and ask your child to do the same.
Encourage them to use the "L" sound naturally in conversation.
Here are some examples of sentences to try if your child can say the L sound in the initial part of words:
Lucas loves to play with his ________.
Lily spotted a beautiful ________ in the garden.
Here are some examples of sentences to try if your child can say the L sound in the final part of words:
The cat chased after the ________.
The bell rang loudly in the ________.
If your child can say the L sound in the middle of words, you should practice phrases like this with them:
Carlos and Lily played catch with a colorful ________.
You can fill in the blanks with L words that your child is familiarized with.
Here are some other phrases and sentences for you to try out:
The little kitten chased its tail.
Alice likes to read books by the lake."
I will help you build a tall tower.
My mom is taller than your mom.
Lisa will let you borrow her book.
Articulation of the L Sound in Stories and Conversations
Stories and conversations are the next rung on the ladder when your child can comfortably say the L sound in sentences. You can achieve this by conversing with them with an emphasis on L words. You can also read short stories and nursery rhymes with L words that your child is fond of.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Make Learning Fun: Try creating a fun and engaging environment for your child to learn. This will help you keep your child interested and motivated.
Be Consistent: Consistency and patience are very important. Set aside practice sessions with your child every day. Keep the practice sessions short and regular. You will see a lot of improvement from this over time. With more practice, your child will become more confident and better at pronouncing L words.
Be Creative: With an endless list of possible games and activities, there is more than enough room for you to explore your creativity. This will make your child’s learning unique and more enjoyable. Don’t be scared to create your own unique games and activities.
Encourage Regular Usage: Encourage your child to use L words regularly in their day-to-day conversations. This will help them get comfortable with the words. You can also practice using other L words in your conversations with them.
Model Correct Pronunciation: As often as necessary, model the correct pronunciation and correct tongue placement for your child. This will help them understand how to do it and provide them with a good model.
Positive Reinforcement: Encourage your child’s speech milestones and progress with positive reinforcement, no matter how little. This will help your child feel confident while boosting their motivation.
Be Patient: It takes time to learn anything. Stay patient with your child and encourage them. Treat them with care, and do not be harsh when they are wrong.
Correct Mispronunciations: You should avoid scolding your child when they do not understand correctly. Be gentle with them and just show them how to do it again. This will ensure that they do not get overly self-conscious.
When to Seek Professional Help: If you realize that your child is still struggling with the L sound after some months and has not shown any significant progress, then you should consider seeking professional help. Do not hesitate to consult a speech-language pathologist for expert opinions on speech delays and speech sound disorders.
Teaching your child how to say the L sound can be a challenging one and will require creativity, patience, and consistency. Following the strategies and tips in this piece will help you support your child’s unique learning process.
Remember that every child’s speech development will vary, and their learning pace will differ, so you have to be very patient. When necessary, contact a speech therapist or any other speech professional to help your child through any speech sound disorders.