Teaching L and R to Japanese English learners.

Some of my Japanese students.
Some of my Japanese students.

Definition of students.

This lesson plan is designed for a Japanese junior high school 8th grade English class to help them one, understand the various articulators, points of articulation, and the manners of articulation for the liquid consonants /l/ and /r/ two, to be able to discriminate between the two, and three to enable the students to produce these sounds correctly. The average age of the students is thirteen. Their grasp of basic English grammar is quite good but their verbal production skills are very limited due to lack of opportunity to speak English outside of the classroom.

Both consonants /l/ and /r/ are difficult for Japanese speakers of English. The English liquid consonant /r/ does have an approximation in Japanese. It is an approximation because it is flapped for words like “ramen (noodles), ringo (apple), Toshiro (a man’s name), and hikari (light) . It is difficult for Japanese but due to this nearness it possess less of a problem than the /l/ which is notoriously difficult for Japanese to one, discriminate in fluent speech, and two, to reproduce on a consistently correct basis. In slow, listening discrimination, guided and controlled practice they often can hear the difference fairly constantly. However, when the pace of the drills is increased to a more natural speed they often begin to have much more difficulty.


Rational for this lesson.

Rational for this lesson comes from Esling and Wong who hold that the voice quality setting for most Japanese is characterized by “faucal constriction and uvularization, with lip spreading.” (1983 p. 89). This means, for example, that when Japanese attempt to produce the colored /l/ they will often pull their tongues too far back in their mouths placing the articulator on or near the hard palate instead of just behind the alveolar ridge. In regards to the /r/ they usually have trouble controlling the tongue. Invariably the students will try to flap the /r/ even when they know they should not. It takes a lot of practice for them to master control of this articulator for the English /r/.


Expected Difficulties with L and R pronunciation for Japanese Students.

Some examples of mistakes made when producing the colored /l/ are saying “ball” such that it sounds like “bar” and “tall” so that it sounds like “tar”.

Other examples would be saying the light /l/ in “light” such that it sounds like “right” and “lamb” so that it sounds like “ram”.

Learning Outcomes.

The learning outcomes of this lesson are as follows.

  1. The students will understand the correct articulator, place and mode of articulation for these consonants.
  2. The student will be able to* recognize the /l/ and /r/ sounds in typical NAE.
  3. The students will be able to* correctly produce the light and colored /l/ and /r/ consonants in suprasegmental settings. For example, “Let Lisa play with the ball”. “Larry fell off the wall” “Turn right at the next light”.

Why this lesson?

The importance of this lesson is first of all based on self esteem issues for the students. Even though they can not produce this target language correctly they want to. Plus if the students ever traveled or lived outside of Japan they would be marked due to their poor pronunciation. The second reason is that in Japan the college entrance exams no longer are strictly grammar/translation based. Therefore many contain listening elements as well. If the students can not discriminate between /l/ and /r/ they will mark low on this exam.

* It is reasonable to expect some of the students to be able to accomplish these goals even after one lesson. However, for the majority of the students I think the terminology should read “be better able to” rather than “be able to”.


Lesson Outline.

Length of class: 45 minutes.

The procedure for the lesson will “be divided into several phases, moving from analysis and consciousness raising to listening discrimination and finally production”. Celce-Murcia, Vrinton, & Goodwin, (2009 p. 36).

A Greet the students and introduce the target for the lesson.

B Pass out red and yellow cards to the students and ask them to place the cards on their desks. The Red card stands for /r/ and the yellow card for /l/.

C For consciousness raising the teacher will explain that he or she will read a series of words containing the /l/ and /r/ sounds and the students are to hold up the appropriate card every time they hear the corresponding sound.

1. Read these words at normal speed.

2. Cover your mouth so as to prevent the students from guessing the sound by the your mouth movements.

3. Read this list: (light, right) (long, wrong) (ball, bar) (lilly, really) (fall far) and (wrist list)

4. Give feedback encouraging the students that even though they may have had trouble hearing the correct sounds that with practice they will be able to master them.

D Use the sagittal chart to demonstrate the articulators, places of articulation, and manner of articulation for /l/ and /r/.

1. Demonstrate from both with your own mouth and from this chart. Make sure to do this in order. /l/ then /r/ or vise-versa.

2. Be sure and point out that the light /l/ is produced by placing the tip of the tongue just on or behind the top front teeth. The students will practice this saying "light" and "left" with the teacher and then by themselves.

3. If possible have the students bring small mirrors to class so that they can watch the movements of their tongues to ensure they are playing them in the correct positions.

4. Next the teacher will demonstrate the /r/ sound. Again by using a sagittal chart. And explaining that the /r/ sound is made by first producing an (uh) sound and then rolling the tongue back in to the moth and then unrolling it while saying a word like “red”. From Celce-Murcia, Vrinton, & Goodwin, (1996 p. 52).

The teacher will give more positive feedback and explain that the next portion of the lesson will give them practice hearing the differences between the /l/ and /r/.

E. Listening Discrimination

1. Minimal Pair drills. Using the same cards as in the first exercise the teacher will read off the following list of minimal pairs and have the learners hold up the appropriate cards when they hear either /l/ or /r/.

right/light, red/led, road/load, crime/climb, bread/bled, froze/flow, arrive/alive, correct/collect

Next the teacher will pass out worksheet #1 and explain to the students that they must listen to the you read the sentences two times. The first time they are to only listen. The second time they are to write in the blanks the correct letter, either l or r.

  • Larry said the lamp was light/right.
  • The horse was red/led.
  • He took the road/load to town.
  • The river froze/flows in the mountains.
  • She collected/corrected her papers.

2. Give any feedback as needed. Always encourage them to keep trying.

F. Controlled Practice

1. The students will be given the picture of Toshiro's room and asked to get into pairs. Then they will be instructed to choose who will be Toshiro and who will be his mother. They will read the conversation, practice it and then perform it in front of the class paying special attention to the /l/ and /r/ sounds.

2. As always, give more feedback.

G. Guided Practice (Airline Reservations Phone Call)

1. Pass out the worksheets for the airline ticketing conversation. Students can stay in the same groups they were in or make new ones. Have them choose roles, practice the conversation, and fill in the info, and then switch roles. Remind them to focus on the /l/ and /r/ sounds but not to over stress them. Try to be relaxed and speak as natural as they can.

2. Of corse more feedback.

H. Communicative Practice (Tell Your Own Story).

1. Hand the map and ask them to use the minimal pair words they first practiced to create their own story.

a.Sample Story

Tom was walking down the road. He turned right and the light near Fun Lake. He wanted to climbtrees there. When he got to the lake it was froze so he went skating instead.

b.After students have had a chance to finish their stories they will combine their group with one two others and then tell their story.

***At this time the other students will use their colored cards and indicate when they hear the /l/ or /r/sound. They will indicate this by raising the appropriate card. (If this causes too much distraction,have the students place their cards on the desk in front of them and simply touch the correct card.)

!!!!A fun activity for this portion is to have them listen for mispronunciations. Do this by having them hold their cards and if they hear a mistake they put their card on the desk in front of the speaker. Atthen end of all the stories the student with the least amount of cards in front of him or her is the winner.




Final Feedback/Home Practice

A.Give feedback on the lesson in general.
1. Focus on the correct articulators, places and manner of articulation.
Remember feedback should be kept positive and encouraging. (Don't reteach the lesson here.)
B.Home Practice.
1. Give the students short recorded readings to practice their listening discrimination. These will off of the handouts of
Toshiro's Room and the map. Ask the students to transcribe them and bring them to class for discussion.
2. Have the students listen to the web page speech accent archives from George Masson University. They will listen to this clip and
on the transcript given them note correct and incorrect pronunciations of the /l/ and /r/. Circle the correct sounds and put a square
around the incorrect ones.

Pics of handouts and scripts.

Toshiro's Room
Toshiro's Room
Airline practice script.
Airline practice script.
Airline practice script.
Airline practice script.
Airline information fill sheet.
Airline information fill sheet.
Airline information sheet.
Airline information sheet.
L and R fill in the blanks.
L and R fill in the blanks.
George Masson University L and R practice.
George Masson University L and R practice.
L card
L card
R card
R card
Toshiro's Room Script.
Toshiro's Room Script.

Please comment. Let me know if you have used this lesson plan. Was it effective? 1 comment

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I found your discussion of why Japanese students find the r and l sounds difficult to reproduce very interesting. I'll never be charged with teaching English to such students, but I enjoyed reading this.

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