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Question of the Month: January 2010

In 2010 EnglishClub will be offering you more audio practice. January’s question of the month is easier to answer with the help of an audio file.

Here is the question: I have difficulty pronouncing the different sounds b, p, f, and v. I have to concentrate so much when I say words with these sounds and I often mix them up. Can you help me?

Well here’s my answer: These sounds are problematic for many English learners. Learners from certain language backgrounds have more difficulty with these sounds than others. Remember that the rules about sounds in your own language may interfere with your ability to pronounce English sounds. The more you practise speaking English, the more it will become natural for you. You need to think and feel English when you are using this language.

In English classes, the sounds B and P are taught together because the mouth position is the same. When you make the sounds B and P your lips are closed, but not pressed too tightly.

The difference between the B and P sounds is that B is voiced. This means there is a vibration (movement) in your throat when you say it. Place your hand on your throat as you say the sound B. You should be able to hear and feel a vibration in your throat. P on the other hand is unvoiced. You can only hear air when you say this sound, and you don’t feel your throat moving.

Let’s try the sounds together:

B, P

B, P

B, P

V and F are taught together because they have a similar mouth position as well. To make these sounds your lips must be raised slightly from their natural position. Your top front teeth are placed on your bottom lip. Your mouth should not be tense. Just like B and P, V is voiced, and F is unvoiced.

Let’s try these sounds together:

V, F

V, F

V, F

Now let’s try some minimal pairs. A minimal pair consists of two sounds that are almost the same. The difference between the sounds is minimal. In other words, the difference is very small.

For each word pair:

1) Listen to me

2) Repeat with me

3) Repeat the example sentence with me

Minimal Pairs for B and P

1. bet, pet

I bet you haven’t met my pet.

2. back, pack

When we get back I’ll need to pack my backpack.

3. bill, pill

Have you seen the bills for my heart pills?

4. bad, pad

I feel bad that I wrote on your pad.

5. by, pie

When you walk by you will smell the pie.

Minimal Pairs for F and V

1. fat, vat

There is a vat of fat on the counter.

2. file, vile

It is vile to shape your teeth with a toenail file.

3. fast, vast

Despite being so vast, the animal is quite fast.

4. fan, van

We need a fan in this van.

5. phase, vase

I go through phases when I love buying vases.

Tip: Some learners mix up all of these sounds. Try to think of these sounds in terms of teeth vs lips. You need your lips to say B and P words. You need your teeth to say F and V words.

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | January 2010

Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.

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