English Pronunciation

American English r sound and l sound

Listen to the r sound sound
Listen to the l sound

American English ESL l sound /l/ illustration |
American English ESL r sound /r/ illustration |

l sound illustration

r sound illustration

There are multiple reasons that the American English l sound and r sound are among the most difficult sounds for non-native speakers to learn to produce clearly.

  • Both of these sounds are possible to pronounce correctly using moderately differing vocal tract shapes
  • Both of these sounds can be syllabic, meaning they can exist in a syllable with no accompanying vowel sound (in some texts, a syllabic r (schwa+r) is considered to be a vowel sound)
  • The sound representing the letter r is quite different in English than in many other languages' sounds for the same letter
  • American English is rhotic, meaning that the r sound is pronounced when it follows a vowel sound (British English, in contrast, is non-rhotic and does not have this feature)
  • The shift in vowel quality of r-controlled vowels (schwa+r, ar sound, air sound, and or sound) is due to the inclusion of the r sound

Syllabic l and r

Most syllabic consonants can exist only on an unstressed syllable. The syllabic r (schwa+r) is unique in that it can also exist on a stressed syllable. For this reason, schwa+r is often considered to be a vowel sound.

When pronouncing a syllablic consonant, do not include any additional vowel sound in the syllable. The syllabic consonants are underlined in the examples below.

Syllabic l and r

Combination l sound and r sound

Additional pronunciation practice is often necessary when an l sound and an r sound are adjacent to one another. It is usually easier to begin with the sounds being in separate syllables and working toward them occurring in the same syllable.

Combination l and r

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l sound, r sound combinations

l sound / r sound minimal pairs

l sound / r sound / w sound minimal set

r-controlled vowels Paragraph Practice

Sound Practice

liquid ar

liquid er/ir/ur

liquid or

liquid air

liquid r

liquid l

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