Substituting N for L

By Pam Marshalla

Q: My 5-year-old client substitutes N for L. I cannot seem to help him make the sound oral and not nasal.

These are the types of things I would try…

Use a Vowel

  • Have her open her mouth wide and say “Ah.”
  • Then have her prolong “Ah” for 5 seconds or more.
  • Then have her continue to say “Ah” while she lifts and lowers her tongue-tip up to the alveolar ridge about 5 times.
  • Tell her, “Don’t try to say L. Just lift up the tip of your tongue, and then lower it again five times.”
  • It will sound like this: “Ahhhh-L-Ahhhhh-L-Ahhhhh…..

Use a Tube

  • Take a tube that can stretch from her nose to her ear.
  • Have her listen to the lack of sound coming through her nose when she says “Ah.”
  • Then have her say “M” and have her listen to the nasal sound.
  • Then teach her that she is letting L come out her nose.
  • Have her hold the tube from nose-to-ear to hear this as she tries to say L.

Pinch the Nose Closed

  • Have her hold her nose to inhibit the air from coming through.
  • As she drives the sound to the nasal passageways, it will be blocked at the pinched nostrils.
  • She will notice the pressure build-up that occurs in the nasal cavities.
  • Tell her not to do that.

Use a See-Scape

  • Place the nasal bulb of the See-Scape into one nostril.
  • Have the client say N. The movable piece will go up.
  • Have her say a sound that she says with good oral airflow, like S, and have her observe that the piece does not move. Repeat this with several other oral sounds.
  • Now have her try the same with L.

Use Tissue Paper and a Tube

  • Hold a tube at the nose, and have it stretch to several tiny pieces of tissue paper on the table.
  • Have her sniff out the nose to make the tissues fly.
  • Have her produce M and N to observe how the tissues fly.
  • Now repeat with non-nasal sounds, like S, T, and K. She will notice that the tissues do not fly
  • Transfer the same activity to the glides––W, L, Y, R.

Use the Fingers to Feel Vibration

  • Have the client place her fingertips on the sides of the nose.
  • Teach her how to feel the nasal vibration that occurs with M, N, and Ng.
  • Have her feel the lack of nasal vibration that occurs with oral sounds.
  • Extend the experience to all the glides––W, L, Y, R.
  • Focus on L.


4 thoughts on “Substituting N for L”

  1. I see a high school student who substitutes n/l. We discovered through trial and error that he needed to produce his /l/ farther back in his mouth….so the tongue touches the middle of the hard palate instead of the alveolar ridge or front teeth area.

  2. I have been a speech path since 1970…this year I have a N/L substitution….I have never had this before. I am doing ear training now so that the student can discriminate these sounds vividly. She is only 6 years old. The other unusual substition I came across in 1975 was a young high school student who substituted Th /F e.g. Thor thunny thens/ Four funny friends…It is ususally the other way around F/Th e.g. I am firsty / I am thirsty. When I get to the production stage I will try using the approach you mentioned producing the L farther back in mouth in mid hard palate instead of alveolar ridge….Thanks

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