I spent most of Friday hanging out with two Dutch friends killing time while waiting for our flights. We ended up at Subway--I could have cried over my six inch spicy Italian on wheat--and after eating began to teach each other language stuff. They taught me some Dutch, I taught them some Romanian.
Just for fun, I started with probably the hardest sound for native English speakers: ɨ (close central unrounded vowel). If you click the link you can listen to it. So Americans usually pronounce a word like pâine (bread) as if it p-w-i-n-e. But after I pronounced it for them I decided to write it down as well and they got really confused. Where's the l? they asked. The l, what? They were hearing an l.
Turns out the l in Dutch is this one: ɫ (velarized alveolar lateral approximant). Think that Russian-y one that sounds like swallowing. They sound much more alike to me when the Dutch one is said after a vowel as opposed to how it's initially pronounced in the link.
Anyway, I don't honestly know enough about this to say much of anything intelligent and it's been four too many years since my linguistics class (in Spanish!), but something at least feels similar in the way I make these two sounds, so even if I can't tell you in technical terms what's going on, I can hear/feel it. However! I looked it up and Wiki tells me that with lateral approximants (like this one: ɫ), the center of the tongue makes solid contact with the roof of the mouth. And of course with ɨ your tongue lifts toward the roof of your mouth (but doesn't touch).
Well of course! That makes so much sense! It made me so excited when they insisted they heard their l. I love this sort of thing, though. Example, with l and r (the tap). The first time I learned to say te extrañare in Spanish, I heard te extrañale and proceeded to say it like that for over a month until I finally heard it again and saw it written out with, to my surprise, an r. It happens in Romanian, too. A word like locurile gets my tongue a little twisted with the l and r that close and I have to slow down about half the time to get it out.
All you linguists, feel free to correct my fumbling descriptions. And language lovers, aren't these sort of things exciting? So much fun! Do any of you switch up sounds like this sometimes?