Don’t mispronounce words that end in the Dark L — many non-native speakers incorrectly make an ‘oh’ ending. Learn how to make the Dark L and the dark sound instead of the OH.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over the difference in the Dark L and the ending OH sound.
Many non-native speakers from various language backgrounds, for example, those in Brazil, Vietnam, and China, have a hard time with the Dark L sound. It’s very common to substitute something like the OH sound, or to think of the word ending in a W, so that ‘email’ sounds like ‘emai-oh’. Email, emai-oh. These two words may sound the same to you, but they don’t sound the same to Americans. In this video we’re going to go over how to avoid substituting the OH sound for the Dark L.
Yesterday, I invited my friend HaQuyen here to briefly talk about why this is a problem.
>>HaQuyen, than you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
>> Not a problem, Rachel.
>> My friend HaQuyen in fluent in both English and Vietnamese. And since Vietnamese is one language group that makes this OH substitution for the Dark L, I thought I’d bring you in and ask you, what can say about this substitution?
>> So, in Vietnamese, the Dark L sound doesn’t actually exist. So what ends up happening, is that the Vietnamese will substitute a sound that they know or are familiar with into the word. So if I say ‘hell’, with a Dark L there at the end, um, Vietnamese will probably substitute the word—the sound—eh-oh.
>> Ok. So then it would be, instead of ‘hell’,
>> Ok. And the reason why they do that is because it exists.
>> Yes. So that sound, eh-oh, ends a lot of Vietnamese words, and it sounds somewhat familiar. So that’s what people will do.
>> Ok. So basically, it’s substituting a sound you don’t know how to make with a familiar sound.
So when a sound is unfamiliar, we tend to substitute it. How to solve that? Make the Dark L a familiar sound.
Oh, emai-oh, is made at the front of the mouth with the lips, emai-oh. This is the biggest difference with the Dark L, which is made at the back of the mouth. I asked HaQuyen how she describes the Dark L sound.
>> HaQuyen, how would you describe the Dark L? I know this is hard because, when you don’t think about how you speak, it’s hard to put words to it. But, just, off the top of your head, what would you say about how to make the Dark L?
>> When I think of the Dark L, or how it sounds or feels in my mouth, I feel that it comes back into the back of my throat. The ELL, the uhl sound is right back there at the end.
>> Umm-hmm. Exactly. That’s how I describe it too. The back part of the tongue moves back, uhl. It’s a weird sound.
>> It is.
OH is a diphthong, which means it has two sounds. It has jaw drop, and, importantly, lip rounding. Even though the tongue lifts in the back, the lip rounding brings the resonance of the voice forward, to the front of the face. Emai-oh. For the Dark L, the tongue pulls back, and might even press down a bit in the back. This is the opposite of OH, where it lifts in the back. The lips can remain neutral. The resonance is in the back of the mouth, uuhl, uuhl.
The Dark L may finish with the tongue coming up, but often we just leave it down and make the dark sound, uuhl, by pulling the back of the tongue back, for the dark L. So, OH sound here, oh, emai-oh. And the Dark sound here: uhl, email. The dark sound is a bit odd on its own, uhl. It doesn’t really sound like the rest of the sounds in American English. It’s unique. Once students get comfortable with the Dark L and start using it, it really changes their accent. Practice words really slowly, uhl, email, uhl. And watch yourself in a mirror. That part is important: you shouldn’t see NY lip rounding.
Let’s go over a few minimal pairs, with correct and incorrect pronunciation.
Now we’re going to study some of these pairs up close and in slow motion to get used to how the sound should look, so when you practice on your own, you can be sure you’re doing it right.
Here, we’ll compare the correct and incorrect pronunciation of ‘email’. See how, for the correct pronunciation, the lips remain more neutral. For the incorrect position, the lips round and flare a bit.
Correct and incorrect pronunciation of ‘tell’. Again, for the correct pronunciation, the lips remain more neutral. For the incorrect position, the lips round and flare a bit.
One more comparison. The correct and incorrect pronunciation of ‘special’. Again, for the correct pronunciation, the lips remain more neutral. For the incorrect position, the lips round and flare.
I hope you can see the difference, even if you can’t hear the difference yet. Try to get comfortable with the Dark sound, uul, by moving the back of the tongue slightly back. Then integrate that into some words, speaking slowly.
Drill a few words with me. Look in a mirror. Make sure your lips aren’t rounding.
Speaking of special, special thanks to HaQuyen for sharing her thoughts with us. Challenge: put three words in the comments below that end in a dark L. Use all the Dark L words in the comments to practice and drill the Dark L on your own.
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That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.