Minimal Pairs /l/ and /r/
alive and arrive
Below are lists of words that vary only by one having the sound /r/ and the other the sound /l/. You can use this to practise the sounds or as a list of words to be careful to pronounce properly.
This page uses the symbols of the Phonemic Chart. You can listen to the symbols here.
/l/ is pronounced with a large flap of the tongue. The best way to make it clear that you aren’t pronouncing /r/ is to bend your tongue as far back as you can in your mouth, and flick it forward as you say /l/. (You can help control your tongue by holding one hand next to your mouth with your fingers in the same position as your tongue, and flick your fingers at the same time as your tongue.)
/r/ is pronounced many different ways in various English-speaking countries and regions, so it is not particularly useful to ask students to base their pronunciation on what native speakers do with their mouths. As making a distinction is the most important thing, it is often better to exaggerate the differences between the two sounds. These descriptions are therefore meant to be useful for students rather than explanations of usual pronunciations.
/r/ is totally unlike /l/ for English speakers. In fact, some people pronounce it much more like /w/. The best way of making the distinction is try to move your tongue as little as possible when making the sound. (You can use your hand to help in the same way as suggested with /l/, but this time keeping your hand still. It can also help to start with your top teeth just touching the back of your bottom lip.)
n = noun, v = verb
* the meaning of the word is not important at this level, but it can still be used to contrast the pronunciation with the other word. For this reason, some of the words are given at two different levels, the second time being when the meaning is also useful.