I listened to the pronunciation of spell in Wiktionary, and it sounds to me that it’s pronounced as
|sbel|—it sounds to me very clearly as a
bsound. But in dictionaries, such as my Mac dictionary app, they say it’s pronounced
psound. Could anybody please give me some information about this pronunciation, and why the
psounds like a
b? My first language is Chinese.
It’s pronounced /spel/ in the audio clip.
Phonemically, English has two bilabial plosive consonants, /b/ and /p/.
Phonetically, these two sounds can be realized in more than one way. The relevant ones to our question are [b] (for /b/), and [pʰ] and [p˭] (for /p/).
[b] is voiced.
[pʰ] is aspirated and unvoiced.
[p˭] is unaspirated and unvoiced.
The unaspirated [p˭] sound is common in English when a “p” (i.e., the /p/ sound) comes after an “s” (the /s/ sound), e.g., spool, spin, spell, etc.
In the audio clip given by Wiktionary, the /p/ sound is a [p˭] sound, that is, it’s an unaspirated /p/ sound.
Note that it’s not a /b/ sound in English.
For a native speaker of a Chinese language/dialect, it’s not surprising to hear this unaspirated /p/ sound as a [b], because the Chinese unaspirated unvoiced bilabial plosive consonant sound ([p˭]) is romanized in Pinyin as b.
(For more information, see Standard Chinese phonology.)
So, I’d say that the OP hears the sound correctly, but it’s a “b” only in Chinese. In English, it’s a “p”.
And in my humble opinion, this is quite normal for a non-native speaker.
The trick is to know that a sound could be thought of as two different consonants in two different languages. Keep that in mind and you would do just fine in listening tasks.