Speech Sounds l

Speech sounds l. This webpage gives practical advice on how to elicit the /l/ sound in young children.

Disclaimer: The techniques to be found on this page are written specifically for speech-language clinicians to use with their clientele. Teachers and parents may also find useful advice here, but the information should not be considered as an alternative to comprehensive speech assessment and intervention. If your child has speech errors please ensure they are assessed by a qualified speech-language pathologist in your local area.

If you have queries about your child's speech development please contact professional organizations such as Speech Pathology Australia , the American Speech and Hearing Association , in the United States and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the United Kingdom.

Unearthing the Target Sound - Speech Sounds l cont...

Imitation: Imitation is an important technique when teaching a child any new speech sound. Imitation requires the child to copy the clinician's correct model of a speech sound. For instance, the clinician first engages the child's full attention and then produces a clear /l/ sound. The clinician is then silent and the child is encouraged to copy exactly the sound the clinician has produced.

In many cases, of course, the child will struggle to accurately reproduce the sound. This is fine, because the child's inability to correctly reproduce a clear target sound gives the clinician a good understanding of how the child's speech error is occurring.

Phonetic Placement: This is perhaps the most popular method of unearthing new and correct speech sounds in young children. Essentially the clinician demonstrates to the child how to correctly place their tongue, teeth and lips - their articulators, in order to produce the correct speech sound.

The techniques of imitation and phonetic placement will be explored on this page.

The /l/ Sound - Speech Sounds l cont...

Correct /l/ Sound Production

The/l/ phoneme is a voiced (larynx vibrates) alveolar glide. When you produce the /l/ phoneme and sustain the sound you should notice that your larynx vibrates. Also note that the breath stream flows down the sides of the tongue and then out, while the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge - located at the roof of the mouth, just behind the top teeth.

The /l/ phoneme is often referred to as a lateral alveolar. Lateral refers to the fact that the breath stream flows to the sides of the tongue blade.

Common /l/ Sound Errors - Speech Sounds l cont...

A common sound error is the /l/ misarticulated as /w/ or as /j/. The /l/ sound is a later developing sound, so what young children generally do is substitute earlier developing sounds such as /w/ and /j/ in place of the /l/ phoneme.

This is considered normal development in younger children, but can become a problem if the child continues to substitute /w/ or /j/ for /l/ in the early school years. For example, 'the leaf on the lake' becomes the weaf on the wake, or the yeaf on the yake.

Eliciting the /l/ Sound - Speech Sounds l cont...

Demonstrate to the child what a typical /l/ looks and sounds like. You do this by opening your mouth quite wide and raising the tongue tip till it touches the alveolar ridge. The child copies your actions. Then have the child feel for the alveolar ridge with their tongue tip. Wayne Secord recommends something sweet or tasty such as peanut butter or jam placed on the child's alveolar ridge to help the child feel (taste) the correct area. A mirror, used to give the child direct visual feedback, is also useful.

Once the child can confidently contact the alveolar ridge with their tongue, have him/her lower and raise the tongue several times up and down so that they can get used to feeling where their tongue should be on /l/ production.

While the tongue is placed against the alveolar ridge ask the child to turn their larynx on/off and note the sound that is made. It should be an accurate /l/ sound. It's also a good idea at this point to have the child touch their own throat to feel their larynx vibrating as they perform the /l/ phoneme.

Phoneme plus vowel can be attempted once the child is able to produce the /l/ sound confidently. Try /l/ee, /l/oo, /l/aah, etc. If the child has difficulty switching from vowel to vowel just practice one vowel, /l/ee. Ask the child to raise and lower their tongue up and down when producing the /l/ee.

At this point, demonstrate to the child the contrast in mouth shape and movement between the /l/ and /w/ phonemes. The /w/ uses a large mouth movement and the tongue lies virtually still, whereas during /l/ production the mouth is open and relatively still while the tongue tip simply rises and falls, rises and falls.


Secord, W. (1981) Eliciting Sounds: Techniques for Clinicians. The Psychological Corporation

Van Riper, C. & Erickson, R.L. (1996) Speech Correction: An Introduction to Speech Pathology and Audiology. Allyn & Bacon

Williams, A.L. McLeod, S. & McCauley, R.J.(2010)Interventions for Speech Sound Disorders in Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Content Updated 9/11

Return from Speech Sounds l to Speech Sound Errors