A letter or not a letter? That’s the question! Whether it is better in the alphabet for la elle to suffer the complaints and confusion of Spanish learners or to get kicked out of the alphabet and, by so doing, join a group called digraphs. Spoiler alert: Unlike Hamlet, Ll makes it out alive. But, like most Shakespearean characters, suffers a bit. In 2010, la elle (sometimes called doble ele) was officially kicked out of the Spanish alphabet by La Academia Real Española and thus became one of five main Spanish digraphs: the Digraph Ll. Read more below, or check out the free Spanish Digraph Ll Worksheet (meant for PK-1st grade) at the bottom.
What’s A Digraph?
Digraphs are pretty simple on their face. Basically, digraphs are two letters that run around together. They fall into two categories: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Here are some examples of heterogeneous English digraphs:
- ng, as in the words going and sing
- ch, as in the words change and Christmas
- sh, as in the words shake and hush
Heterogeneous digraphs are two letters that, when combined, make a third sound you can’t find in the original letters.
LL, however, is an example of a homogeneous digraph in both English and Spanish. But, that’s where their similarities end. In English, a homogeneous digraph doesn’t mean much because the two letters don’t generally change the sound. If you think of “ll” words, you’ll actually see what I mean. (See what I did there?) Many people would argue that, at least in English, homogeneous digraphs shouldn’t exist–that one of the letters should get the correction pen. But that’s a discussion for another day.
When combined in Spanish, homogeneous digraphs do make a new sound not present from the singular sounds of the original letters. Look at the below list of Spanish digraphs, and you’ll see two homogeneous ones (i.e., LL and RR) and three heterogeneous ones (i.e., CH, GU, and QU).
Pronunciation and History
When Ll was a letter, it was called la elle. This is still the simplest way to refer to it, as el díagrafo Ll is a bit wordy.
Most Spanish letters and digraphs have only one or two truly different sounds across the Spanish-speaking world, but Ll is an exception. In fact, its pronunciation is so nuanced and important that we plan to dedicate an entire post just to exploring it further.
The short version is that Ll makes three common sounds, depending upon location, and two less common sounds, again depending upon location. Technically, there’s no “correct” sound, so you may have to consider picking the sound that works best for you or your learners. You can read more about why you might pick one sound over another in the same blog post about digraph Ll.
The three main sounds Ll makes are below. Click the phonological symbol to hear a speaker pronounce the sound and then the word “allá” (Spanish for “there”). For maximum contrast and especially for new learners, you may find it helpful to open all three links and then play the videos one after another.
- /ʝ/, which works out to roughly the English “Y” when it’s not acting like a vowel
- /ʒ/, which sounds roughly like the English “S” only in loan-words like measure and vision
- /ʃ/, which is similar to the English “sh” in words like shake and sheep
The two less common sounds digraph Ll makes are:
- /ʎ/, which sounds roughly like a very soft version of the “lli” combination English speakers make in words like billion. It is best heard in this YouTube video. In the first part of the video, the speaker talks about the digraph and then lists places where this “lleísta” pronunciation still exists. Then he moves on to pronouncing word after word with the “traditional” elle sound.
- /ɟʝ/, which doesn’t exist “naturally” in English
Worksheet Learning Focus
One of the key digraph Ll errors that students, learners, and even many native speakers make is hypercapitalization or hypercorrection. The capital digraph is Ll, and the lowercase is ll. So, this worksheet supplies practice with these skills and more.
- Identifying capital Ll
- Identifying lowercase ll
- Forming capital Ll
- Forming lowercase ll
- Familiarization with “Ll” vocabulary and a common infinitive
- las llaves
- la lluvia
- la nube
In this two-page Spanish Digraph Ll Worksheet, you’ll find PK-1st grade oriented activities involving «la elle», such as practicing formation of capital letters (mayúsculas) and lowercase letters (minúsculas) and being introduced to “Ll” vocabulary. Because of the age group targeted, directions are scaffolded in English and Spanish or use English/Spanish cognates.
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Ideas for Use
Students in preschool and kindergarten will likely benefit most from this worksheet, but this free Spanish digraph Ll worksheet is great for any student who needs a little extra digraph and Spanish vocabulary practice.