Teaching the /b/ or /p/ Sounds

A Bilabial Plosive in English is either /b/ or /p/ sound used at the beginning of a word as in boy or toy. Or, indeed bilabial and plosive.

Some more minimal pairs with b and p include:

bat – pat
bail – pale
bar – par
big – pig
billow – pillow
belt – pelt

These sounds can often cause pronunciation problems for learners of English as they are similar and difficult to differentiate between. There is a notable problem here for Arabic speakers where the sound /p/ does not exist at all in their mother-tongue.

However, it is possible to teach your students the difference between these two sounds using minimal pairs and also a piece of tissue paper.


In phonetics, bilabial means using both lips and plosive means to explode. In other words, the lips are closed blocking the expulsion of air from the mouth; the lips are then opened and the air rushes out.

Bilabial Plosive Video

There are many videos that are a short explanation of one method to teach the difference between the /b/ and /p/ sounds to your class.

It offers simple instructions which allow students to not only hear the difference but also see the difference. It begins looking at minimal pairs and then demonstrates how sound flows out of the mouth using a tissue paper to offer strong visual evidence.

Useful Links

Pronunciation in English – talking about pronunciation in general in English

Posted in Language Skills.