When to Be Concerned About Your Child’s Articulation of the L Sound

“I Wove You!” For young children, substitutions of the /l/ sound are common, but when should ‘wove’ become ‘love’? Blog/l/-Articulation-Main-Portrait

The /l/ sound is characterized as one of the ‘late eight’ sounds or, the later developing sounds in English-speaking children. Research has shown that 90% of children master the /l/ sound by 6;0. (Data from Templin, 1957; Wellman et al., 1931). (Sanders, 1972)

So…What Does This Mean for My Child?

In young children, these articulatory errors are developmentally appropriate and often resolve on their own. However, if you are noticing the persistence of these errors around 5 or 6 years of age, a speech and language evaluation might be an appropriate next step. An evaluation could be warranted sooner if there are other accompanying speech errors, or if you are concerned about your child’s overall ability to be understood.

How to Make the /l/ Sound:

This sound can be taught as “the singing sound”. The /l/ sound is made with the tongue elevated to touch the alveolar ridge or, the bumps on the hard palate behind the front teeth. Have your child watch your mouth as you say ‘la-la-la’, then, let her have a try.

Having your child practice in front of a mirror can be a particularly useful tool as well, giving her the opportunity to trouble-shoot her productions. Talk about the bumps on the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth as being the ‘magic spot’ where we want our tongue tip. If your child is comfortable with it, use a tongue depressor to touch the alveolar ridge if tongue placement is particularly difficult.

One of the most common errors associated with production of /l/ is called gliding, where /l/ is substituted with a glide sound (/w/ or /j/). If your child is substituting a /w/ for an /l/, it’s important to discuss relaxing the lips (or even having them in a slight smile) to avoid lip rounding.

Feel free to make this fun and interactive! Use a play dough head and make a tongue out of dough to demonstrate tongue tip elevation. Find what makes this interesting and salient to your child!

Shape the sound from one the child already has!

-Have your child prolong an ‘ahhhh’ sound and have her slowly elevate her tongue tip to the alveolar ridge.

-If your child is able to produce a /t/ or /d/, talk about having your tongue tip in the same spot for /l/ as for these sounds. Alternate between saying /ti/-/li/, /ti/-/li/.

Once your child is able to produce /l/ in isolation and in syllable shapes, begin targeting this sound in various positions in words (i.e., initial, medial, and final).

*It is worth noting that /l/ has two different placements depending on its position in a word. Light /l/ occurs at the beginning of a syllable (e.g., leaf), and dark /l/ occurs at the end of a syllable (e.g., milk).

Suggestions for Activities:

The /l/ sound is everywhere! Feel free to be creative.

Here are some activities to try out:

-Build a Lego tower and formulate two-word phrases (e.g, red Lego, blue Lego) as you build.

-Point out objects in your environment with /l/, or play I spy.

-Read a book with your child and have her produce some of the words with /l/.

The following books are heavily loaded with /l/ sounds:

Llama Llama Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, by Eileen Christelow

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, by Bernard Waber

The Luckiest Leprechaun, by Justine Korman

It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw

Should you have concerns about your child’s articulation, consult with a licensed speech-language pathologist.

[1] Sanders, E. (1972). “When Are Speech Sounds Learned?”. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 37, 55-63.

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