Classes of word sounds


There are about 50 basic speech sounds used to form words.

Speech sounds are produced by vibrations of the breath stream as you exhale air. These vibrations occur in the vocal folds in the larynx or voice box. The sound generated by vocal fold vibrations is called a “voiced” sound. Most speech sounds involve voicing. Others are “unvoiced.”

The two primary classes of speech sounds are vowels and consonants. There are one class of vowel sounds and three classes of consonant sounds. These sounds are made by either opening or constricting the vocal tract and varying the position of speech articulators such as the tongue and mouth opening.

Don’t be overly concerned with the mechanics, because there’s nothing wrong with your external speech apparatus. The problem lies in the speech areas of the brain, and that’s what you’ll be working on.

Go over the basic word sounds in the vowels and consonants sections below to familiarize yourself with them. Don’t worry about intensity or easy onset here. You’ll use these techniques later.

At some point during the course you might think, Why not just repattern on these sounds rather than the plethora of words they comprise? How much faster and easier would that be? Well, at one point, I got that (seemingly) bright idea. Repatterning each sound into the brain should enable fluency on all words starting with that sound, right? Wrong, unfortunately. The technique seems logical, but it doesn’t work. My assessment: The brain treats isolated sounds differently than sounds combined into words. Words carry meaning, sounds don’t. It’s about how the brain handles language, including perhaps processing isolated sounds and words via different neural pathways.