Vowels and Consonants: W, Y, R, and L


We are getting towards the end of our consonant sounds. Up to this point, we have tried to group our letters logically so that they would be easier to learn. Unfortunately, we are now learning the stragglers and the unique sounds that English pronunciation has.

The sounds /w/, /y/, /r/, and /l/ all belong to a group of sounds called Approximants. Approximants can be further divided into Glides and Liquids. The sounds /w/ and /y/ are both Glides, whereas /r/ and /l/ are considered Liquids.

If you need any more help with vowels and consonants, check out our Vowels and Consonants Home Page for lessons, flashcards, and articles.


How to Pronounce W

The letter “W” can be a difficult sound to make as it is very close to the /oo/ sound we learn later.  To start, we are going to round our mouth to form a small circle with our lips. As for tongue placement, you will be moving your tongue close to where it is in the /u/ sound, back and high in the mouth. It is a voiced consonant, so the sound comes from the vibrating of your vocal cords. Start vibrating while your mouth is in a small “o”, and then expand it to make a “wuh” sound. It may take some practice, try to follow our video to make sure your mouth is in the right place. 

Teacher’s Tip: /w/ is often paired with “h”. However, the sound does not change, and it still makes a /w/ sound (wh as in whale). 

The IPA symbol for /w/ is w.

Common letters with W:

  1. Whale
  2. Win
  3. We
  4. Where

How to Pronounce Y

As a child, I was always interested in the letter “Y”. I remember teachers telling me it was sometimes a vowel, which always confused me. In English, “Y” is considered the 6th vowel as it sometimes plays the role of a vowel in words, and can assume a Long E sound (as in happy), an /i/ sound (as in hymn) or an /igh/ sound (as in fly). 

Today, we are not going to practice “Y” as a vowel, and instead will keep it as a voiced consonant where it makes a “yuh” sound. The “yuh” sound is a very difficult one to make, and it will require a lot of practice. Start with the back of your tongue pushed up to almost touch your soft palate. Your mouth and teeth should remain open. The tip of your tongue should be placed high and at the front of your mouth. The sound will start with vibrations in the vocal cords, and then it will change as you lower your jaw and relax your tongue to make the “uh” portion of “yuh”.

The IPA symbol for /y/ is j.

Common words with /y/:

  1. Yes
  2. Yellow
  3. Yard
  4. Yak
  5. Yo-yo

How to Pronounce R

The letter “R” often causes problems for non-English speakers because of its closeness to other languages’ sounds. /r/ is a voiced consonant, so you should expect to vibrate your vocal cords to make its rough sound. Your lips should be parted and your teeth apart. Your tongue should be pulled back towards the back of your mouth, and the tip of your tongue should be pointed up nearly touching the hard ridge behind your upper teeth (the area you use to make /d/ or /t/). Try to avoid drawing the /r/ sound out into a “ruh” sound when your practice this phonics lesson. When done right, /r/ should sound close to a growl.  

The IPA symbol for /r/ is r.

Common words with /r/:

  1. Red
  2. Rocket
  3. Rainbow
  4. Rain

How to Pronounce L

For the letter “L”, place the tip of your tongue on the hard ridge between your upper teeth and the roof of your mouth. Make a voiced sound (vibrate your vocal cords) and let the air flow over and around your tongue and out of your mouth. This sound is one of the ones that may be easier to learn by listening and doing your best to mimic the sound.

Teacher’s Tip: Many young children struggle with this sound. Do not worry. If you want to read more about problems with /l/, take a look here.

The IPA symbol for /l/ is l.

Common words with /l/:

  1. Leaf
  2. Lion
  3. Luck
  4. Call
  5. Help

Other Vowel and Consonant Lessons That You Might Like

click here to download our free vowels and consonants flashcards

How to Teach Your Child Vowels and Consonants

  1. Print out our flashcards or make your own. You want to make sure the flashcard has the letter on one side and a picture on the other for your child to associate with the sound.
  2. Teach the name of the letter and the sound that that letter makes to your child. If you do not feel confident in making the sound correctly yourself, you can use the videos we have provided in our Member’s Section.
  3. Teach your child the word that is associated with this letter ( A is for apple, /a/ /a/ apple). If possible, have them draw the word it is associated with.
  4. If your child is old enough, teach them how to write the letter (both the small and big version). Make sure to emphasize the name and the sound that the letter makes while your child is writing.
  5. Verify with a teacher or native English speaker that your child is making the sound correctly

After Your Child Has Learned This Sound

Once you know your child is making the sounds correctly, you should look to practice phonics as much as possible. Basic phonics are incredibly important, and getting this right now will help your child in the future. Remember that the more one-on-one practice time you can give your children, the better they will be in their English pronunciation. It also does not need to be textbooks and flashcards memorization, here is a list of fun activities you can do to practice with your children. No one knows your child better than you, make English time more fun by pairing it with activities they like to do. Anything from coloring, reading, or more active games will be helpful if they are practicing and thinking about these vowels and consonants.

Practicing should continue for a while, but when you want to teach something new, you can begin to look at a different phonics lesson. Links for all of these can be found above. As well, you can check their progress on their English pronunciation with some of our assessment quizzes in our Member’s Section.

I Have More Questions

If you have any more questions about this phonics lesson, practicing these sounds, or where to go from here, we have a couple of resources for you here at The Learner’s Nook.

  1. Here is a glossary of terms we use in these guides which may help clear up some confusion.
  2. Here is a diagram of a mouth with labels if you do not understand which part of the mouth should be moving.
  3. Here you can see a general overview of how to teach phonics to your ESL children which may be what you are looking for.
  4. Join our members club to book some time with us to ask us your questions.

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