196: Do you say 'people' as 'peopo'?

Common problems with words that end in '-le.'


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 196th episode.

I received an email from someone named Chao a few weeks ago. Chao is a native Chinese speaker who is having trouble with words that end in -le and asked me to do a podcast about it. Like many other Chinese speakers, Chao is substituting a long o sound for the l sound at the end of words. After nearly 200 episodes, I was sure I'd covered this topic before. But after some digging, I realized I hadn't exactly covered it. The closest I've come is talking about the syllabic l in episode 142. While the syllabic l is related to this problem, this is a little more specific.

When I got the email from Chao, it really struck a chord because Queenie, an in-person Chinese student of mine, is having the exact same problem. Chao mentioned the following specific words, which I'll say first, then you'll hear Queenie say in her natural Chinese accent.

people (peopo)
table (tabo)
bottle (botto)
cuddle (cuddo)
struggle (struggo)

Even if your native language is not Chinese, it's really easy to accidentally do the same thing that Chao and Queenie are doing. While we think of the /l/ being created by careful tongue placement, this specific issue is caused much more by what the lips are doing. You see, even if your tongue is in the right place, if your lips are brought into circle, your listeners will hear the long o instead.

When I was working with Queenie, I could see that when a word ended in the l sound, the corners of her lips came inward, making her lips rounded. This tiny movement was all that was needed to make more of a long o than l sound. When Queenie was trying to say the l sound, she did have the tip of her tongue in the correct l sound place. It was just that the roundness of her lips were covering up the sound. Once her lips remained relaxed, the l sound came through. If you're working through this problem, you don't need to overly stretch the corners of the lips; you just need to relax them.

Lucky for all of us, Queenie is here with me to help you hear the difference between these words. She's going to give us a little before-and-after audio to demonstrate how much difference this change makes. She'll say her naturally accented way first, then the new way she's been practicing:


Isn't that incredible? Thanks Queenie. How did you get so good at words like this?

Queenie: I improved them by listening to the MP3 and keep repeating them.

That's great. Now to give you all a chance to practice repeating words like this, let's have a little practice session right now. I'll say a list of words, then I'll leave you time to repeat after me.


If you're wondering what the MP3 files were that Queenie was talking about using for her practice, those are the audio files that go with the book, "Pronunciation Pages 2." That book includes focused practice for every sound of English in the beginning, middle, and end of a word. It's great, for instance, you have trouble with the l sound, but just at the end of a word. If you buy the downloadable ebook version, the audio downloads along with the PDF. If you buy the physical book, the MP3 audio files come on a CD. You can find details by clicking the "products" link on Pronuncian.com.

Chao, if you're listening, Queenie was very impressed by your email and that you were able to pick this issue out for yourself! Well, I'll let her say it in her own words:

Queenie: I think Chao is very brilliant to notice this!

If you have a podcast topic you'd like to hear, watch for our upcoming contest on Facebook and Twitter regarding our 200th episode. We want to know what you'd like that episode to be about. If we choose your topic you'll win a free ebook! Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/englishassembly, and our Twitter page is @pronuncian.

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening to this SLA digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Bye-bye, (Queenie: and good luck)!