One of the most vexing aspects of learning English conversation for students in Japan seems to be mastering the phoneme /l/, and this study sets out to describe the linguistic phenomenon in detail. Just over 100 first-year college students in four conversation classes were recorded speaking in pairs over a three-month period—in pre-, mid-, and post-course tests. The /l/ frequency errors and linguistic environments were tabulated.
It was found that just 10.9% of all /l/s uttered in all environments were deemed unacceptable or non-nativelike. Students made significantly more errors on the pre-course test than on the mid- and post-course tests. But, when just two words which also appear in the Japanese language with katakana pronunciations—policy and complex —were eliminated from the pre-course test tabulations, the progress made by students during the course was not statistically significant. A final interesting finding was that /l/ was the hardest to pronounce when between vowels (eg., hello ) or in consonant clusters (eg., play). The classroom implications for teachers are described.