Speak & Spell

Speak & Spell

Synopsis of Toy

Plenty of toys become hits, but only a select few make history. One of the finest examples in the historical arena is Speak & Spell. Not only did this toy educate its users, it spoke to them using brand-new computer technology. Simply put, this toy managed to pack a computer’s worth of top-flight technology into a plastic shell that was small enough to conveniently fit in a backpack. As a result, it became a favorite with kids and one of the most successful educational toys of all time.

Texas Instruments, a company best known at the time for its calculators, introduced Speak & Spell in 1978. This electronic marvel was design to teach its users spelling skills with vocalized lessons. What made this toy impressive was that it pulled this off without using a tape recorder or other conventional recording device. Speak & Spell created convincing speech sounds through a method called digital speech synthesis. In other words, it used computerized circuits to create a replica of the human vocal tract that would synthetically “speak” words aloud when prompted. This was the first use of this kind of technology, making Speak & Spell a toy for the history books.

Speak & Spell offered five different spelling games to occupy the user. For the most part, these games revolved around Speak & Spell's saying a word aloud for the user to spell. This was accomplished by punching in the proper combination of letters on the toy’s alphabetical keypad. As each letter was pressed, Speak & Spell would say it aloud so the l'il speller could hear his choice. Other buttons allowed the user to hear a word repeated, retype the answer before entering it, or even receive a clue.

Another nice thing about Speak & Spell was that its electronic brain could be expanded to keep up with its users as they grew older. Speak & Spell pulled this off through new learning modules—little cartridges inserted in the back of the machine that could add new words to the games to increase the level of learning up to an 8th grade level.

Speak & Spell’s unique combination of technology and fun made it an instant hit with kids. Its popularity with its target audience was given a further boost when a certain adorable alien used it to help him "phone home" in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Both parents and educators appreciated its value as a teaching tool, and their combined seals of approval made Speak & Spell a common sight in homes and schools alike. Its popularity also led to sequel electronic games for other areas of learning like Speak & Math and Speak & Read.

Speak & Spells are not made today, but their popularity continues to live on. It has become a popular possession for Generation X adults who want to relive their youth, and musicians often sample Speak & Spell’s vocal sounds to create trippy yet oddly familiar effects in their music. Having already outlived its own shelf life, there is no doubt that Speak & Spell will long occupy a place in the hearts of the grownups it once educated.

Release History of Toy

1978 - Speak & Spell
Speak & Math
Speak & Read

Sub Categories of Toys

electronic games
electronic toys

Toy and Game Manufacturer

Texas Instruments

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