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I’m not a native speaker of English; I’m Vietnamese. When I listen to a voice sample of or vs all, I can’t hear any difference between those two words.

Do they really have the same pronunciation? If so, does this happen everywhere? How can native speakers hear them as different words? Please clarify.

  • @nnnnnn Note that many speakers (such as myself) pronounce "l" differently depending on its position in a syllable. – CJ Dennis Feb 29 at 4:50
  • @CJDennis - Yes, I do too. Also when a word ends in L its pronunciation can be affected by the beginning of the next word. But I don't think I ever say "all" without some variation of an L sound, it's not the same as "or". – nnnnnn Feb 29 at 5:49
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    I just had a brief look at Vietnamese phonology. It looks like any answer to this question would need to delve deeply into how Vietnamese and English phonology are quite different. For example, I'm not sure if Vietnamese has any syllables ending in /r/ or /l/, and only one of the two main varieties of Vietnamese has /r/ anyway although they both have /l/. The OP probably can't hear the difference between /r/ and /l/ having never been exposed to the two sounds in their native speech. – CJ Dennis Feb 29 at 6:03
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    In British English, which is non-rhotic, the two are close. In American English they are very distinct. – Mitch Feb 29 at 16:24
  • @Mitch There's a lot more to it than that. Many—and perhaps most—Americans have the ‘close-o’ of ɢᴏᴀᴛ = /got/ in ‹or›= [oɻ] but the ‘open-o’ of ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛ = /θɔt/ in ‹all›= [ɔɫ]. Whether our asker can perceive the tense–lax distinction between the two mid-back vowels [o–ɔ] let alone the retroflex–velar distinction of the two liquid approximants [ɻ–ɫ] is an entirely different matter. Many ESL listeners unattuned to English phonemic distinctions within those two pairs can easily ‘mis-perceive’ them as identical, even though we ourselves mostly do not. – tchrist Feb 29 at 21:01
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When humans are infants, they learn what phonemes are in their native language, and they learn to distinguish between them. If someone isn't exposed to different phonemes being distinguished at a young age, they may be unable to distinguish them at a later age. For a native speaker of English, "l" and "r" are clearly different, but apparently for people who aren't exposed to this distinction at a young age, they sound very similar. Asians in general seem to have trouble with this distinction, leading to the term "Engrish" being used to refer to English as spoken by Asian people. I'm sure there are phonemes in Vietnamese that native English speakers would have trouble distinguishing.

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  • You are right. This is my soreness when learning English. I can not know when the people are saying "on", "all", "or". – Co Worker Mar 2 at 8:31
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The 'r' in the word 'or' sounds like a growling dog. The 'l' in the word 'all' is the sound created when you place your tongue to the roof of your mouth at the end of the word. Say the 'a' with mouth open and tongue down, then push to roof of mouth to change the 'a' sound into the 'l'.

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    You explain r by reference to the sounds an animal might make, you define l by reference to the position and movements of the tongue. Couldn't you do that for r too ? Your answer would be much improved if you did. – High Performance Mark Feb 28 at 10:03

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