L is one of the easier sounds to correct since it is visual.  We can see the tongue tip as it moves to the correct position in the mouth, and therefore make adjustments more easily.  L is no longer considered developmental by the age of 4, so if your child is still producing a W for L then it’s time to get some speech therapy! 

First Things First 

Jaw stability is very important since the tongue will follow what the jaw is doing. The child must be able to differentiate movement of the articulators (jaw, tongue, lips) and then be able to move them synergistically with correct articulation. For example, a child should be able to hold their mouth open and lift their tongue tip up to the alveolar ridge (bumpy spot behind the front teeth) without any jaw movement. All movement should be from the tongue, independent of the jaw. There should be no lip movement either. This is a priority before introducing articulation therapy. Strength and coordination must be available to support placement and production. The speech therapist will find the right tool(s) to help your child create and maintain jaw stability. Straws, popsicle sticks or bite blocks can help keep the jaw stable while they move other articulators, so they stop any compensatory or inaccurate movements. The non-speech oral motor exercises will reduce the amount of time spent in therapy overall. 

How To Find The Spot: Once your child has established good jaw stability and differentiation of their articulators, they can begin to work on tongue tip elevation.  For some kids this is not a problem after they have learned how to separate the tongue and jaw, but others need more help.  If your child has difficulty getting their tongue tip in the right place, you could practice by having them lick peanut butter (or something with that consistency) from behind their front teeth. You can also have them hold a cheerio up behind their front teeth with their tongue tip. Kids especially like grabbing the cheerio, or other food item of that shape and size, from a plate with the tongue and then bringing it into the mouth and putting it in the right spot.

Teaching The Air To Flow: If your child has difficulty with air flowing out of the sides of their tongue, have them put their tongue tip on the alveolar ridge (the bumpy spot) and then have them breathe in and out so they can feel the cool air going over the sides of their tongue. Another way of teaching this lateral air flow (air escaping out the sides of the tongue) is to place a straw in the front of their mouth (not between the lips) and have them blow air into it, then place two straws on either side of the mouth and have them try to blow air into it.

Turning On The Voice: If understanding how to “turn on the voice” is the problem have your child place their hand over their voice box and feel how it vibrates when they make loud vs. soft sounds, and also noticing the difference of voiced vs unvoiced pairs (p/b, f/v, k/g, t/d, ch/j, s/z). 

Eliciting The Sound

Shaping L From TH: If your child can produce a good voiced TH sound as in “this” or “that”,  you can teach the L sound by shaping it from TH. Have your child say TH, then have them pull their tongue back to the alveolar ridge  (the bumpy spot) while still producing a voice and you will have a nice L sound.

Smile: A quick remedy to eliminate lip rounding, which causes your child to produce a W instead of an L, is to tell them to make a big smile when saying an L syllable or L word.  We can exclude the long O sound and OO sound, since we need lip rounding for those.  “Lay, Lee and Lie” are good ones to practice with. Be sure to avoid words that end in lip sounds (b, p, m) since they are practicing an exercise without lip rounding or lips touching. 

Speech Production

Initial and Medial L vs. Final L: The initial and medial L are easier to produce than the final L. We often say “la-la-la” when referring to production of the initial and medial L. The final L has more of an “uhl” sound to it, which requires the tongue to be a bit broader and lifted, which is why final L is a bit trickier to master.  

Final L: Have your child say “ah” or “uh” and continue to voice it. Say it for as long as they can keep it going.  As they are doing this, have them slowly move the tongue tip up to the alveolar ridge (the bumpy spot) for the L. At this point it should sound like “ahl” or “uhl” depending on which vowel you are using. Tell them to freeze the tongue in that position, with the tongue tip up, as they stop the sound. It’s important that the tongue stays up in the position after the sound has ended to eliminate them saying “luh” at the end of the word, as in ball-luh. Once they can do this successfully on several words you can move right along with your articulation practice using the hierarchy.

Clusters: When kids insert the schwa (uh sound) between the consonant clusters of pl, bl, etc., (puhlay for play or buhlue for blue) you can have them say the sounds very close together. I usually tell kids to shave off part of each sound and squish them together so they are almost one sound.

The Hierarchy

With the guidance of a speech therapist, and following the home program they provide, your child will acquire and use the L sound in no time! Here are some basic guidelines to use to support your child’s home program.

Syllables: Once your child can produce a good L sound at the phoneme level, then it’s time to move onto syllables. Using vowels is an excellent way to practice syllables (lay, lee, lai, lo, loo, all, ale, eel, I’ll, allo, ella, illu, ollo, ulla). 

Words: Once your child can produce a good L sound at the syllable level, then it’s time to move onto words. Here is a link from Teachers Pay Teachers where you can purchase picture cards ($2) of words with L at the beginning, middle and end of a word.

Sentences: Once your child can produce a good L sound at the word level, then it’s time to move onto sentences.  You can make silly sentences, play around with tongue twisters, or make single sentences with L while also focusing on building grammar and spelling skills. Resources for practice at this level are on Teachers Pay Teachers and also on apps from Little Bee Speech, and Virtual Speech Center’s Articulation Carnival

Stories: Once your child can produce a good L sound at the sentence level, then it’s time to move onto stories.  One of my favorite apps to use for stories is Little Stories Pro from Little Bee Speech. You can also use any books your child likes to read or make up stories.

Conversation:  Once your child can produce a good L sound at the story level, then it’s time to move onto conversation.  This is where the rubber hits the road!  When conversation is spontaneous it is most challenging, and even more so when they have emotions on top of it! You can start with structured conversations about their daily routine and what happened in school or with other activities, and then move onto helping them to recognize and make corrections during more spontaneous speech. 

There is a lot to do but we are here to help and make it as easy and fun as possible!

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!

Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!