Google Play Sounds of Speech app
Monday, January 13, 2014 - 10:59am

A University of Iowa phonetics website that has become an incredibly popular English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching tool is now available as a mobile application for iOS and Android.

Of over 6 million results in a Google search of the term phonetics, the "Phonetics: The Sounds of Spoken Language" website ranks first, averaging five thousand visits a day with visitors from over 180 countries. The site provides animated libraries of the phonetic sounds of English, Spanish, and German so visitors can listen to each individual sound and watch how a speaker’s muscles move to form it.

“Speech pathologists must have a firm grasp of the anatomy and physiology associated with speaking,” says resource developer Jerry Moon, professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Having that in-depth understanding allows them to assist patients with faulty articulatory patterns that affect speech intelligibility. In addition, being able to ‘see’ inside the mouth using computer-based animation represents a powerful tool for learning how to produce speech sounds.”

The English sound production component of the site has been particularly successful, emerging as an excellent resource for ESL instructors and learners who benefit from the descriptions of speech mechanism anatomy and articulatory gestures associated with English sound production.

“Phonetics: The Sounds of Spoken Language” was developed in 2000 with funding from a UI Instructional Improvement Award. Moon continues to receive as many as 80 messages per week with feedback from people around the world who are using it.

Given the popularity of the English component of the site and the rising use of tablets and smartphones, the next logical step was to develop a new mobile app. During the fall of 2012, Moon applied for and received funding from the Innovations in Teaching with Technology Awards, administered through the Academic Technologies Advisory Council (ATAC), to create the mobile version, “Sounds of Speech™”, and partnered with Information Technology Services (ITS) to build it.

“Offering the Sounds of Speech™ app as an on-demand learning tool through an easily accessible mobile platform puts this excellent resource at learners’ fingertips wherever they might be, without the need to have a laptop or traditional Internet connection,” Moon says.

Sounds of Speech™ can be downloaded through the Apple App Store and Google Play for $2.99.

While Sounds of Speech™ is certainly not the first mobile application developed at the UI, it does represent a bit of a milestone in the university’s mobile development efforts. A number of students and startups have commercialized mobile apps born at the university and the UI makes apps focused on the campus and its activities freely available, but Sounds of Speech™ is the first one to be commercialized directly by the UI.

“In this case, the UI put together the resources necessary to offer this very valuable tool in a more widely available platform, and now a portion of the revenue can be used to support maintenance and further development of the mobile app,” says Zev Sunleaf, executive director of the UI Research Foundation.

For more on the Sounds of Speech™ mobile app, contact the UI Research Foundation at 319-335-4605.