Texas Instruments Speak & Spell (Type 3)

Date of introduction:  1981 Display technology:  Fluorescent
New price:   Display size:  9 alphanumeric
Size:  10.0" x 7.0" x  1.3" 
 254 x 177 x 34 mm3
Weight:  16.7 ounces, 474 grams Serial No:  7335341
Batteries:  4*C cells Date of manufacture:  wk 49 year 1983
AC-Adapter:  AC9199 Origin of manufacture:  USA (ATA)
Precision:   Integrated circuits:  TMC0271, TMC0281/CD2801, CD2350A
Program steps:   Courtesy of:  Joerg Woerner
Download leaflet:   (US: 1.1M Bytes) Download manuals: (Word List 1981-1992)   (US: 1.8M Bytes)
  (US: 10.0M Bytes)
  (US: 2.9M Bytes)

Shortly after the invention of the synthesizer technology to reproduce human speech with tuned voices stored in ROMs (Read-only Memories - Integrated Circuits), Texas Instruments introduced the revolutionary Speak & Spell. If you compare this educational toy with the Spelling B you understand the differences: The Spelling B created a random number and the children looked up in an additional booklet the numbered pictures. The idea was to spell the name of that picture correct. The Speak & Spell used a different approach: The spoken word was generated by the built in loudspeaker and you had to type it in correct.

This educational toy was rated by Texas Instruments for children aged between 6 and 14 years. 

An alphanumeric display was used as feedback during typing words.

The same technology like this Speak & Spell was used in two other products: Speak & Read and Speak & Math. View the more serious Language products like the Language Tutor.

The original Speak & Spell introduced in the year 1978 used 40 button keys, the later products introduced in 1980 aka Version 2 featured a membrane keypad and a cost reduction program introduced in 1981 resulted in this Speak & Spell with a different - and much smaller list of stored words.

In the year 1989 the Super Speak & Spell was introduced with a multiline LC-display. Only two years later marketing decided to switch back to the original housing. View the wonderful Super Speak & Spell (91) and don't miss the "Professor" manufactured in China.

Press the Play button and listen Speak & Spell tunes.
Find more sound samples in the DOWNLOAD section.
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This Speak & Spell is an early model. Please notice the gold lettered "Texas Instruments" on the display screen and the large "TI" logo on the keyboard. Later models got a slightly different design. View a later model here

Compare this red Speak & Spell with the blue Buddy, introduced in the same year in Germany, the French speaking La Dictée Magique or the colorful Grillo Parlante sold in Italy. For the United Kingdom market Texas Instruments just changed the Speech-ROMs and created the Speak & Spell (British Voice).

A similar product without display was later introduced with the Speak & Spell Compact.

With its amply rounded, roughly A4-sized red case, its large carrying handle and easily washable (and largely indestructible) flat membrane keyboard, the Speak & Spell looks funky, like some neo-retro lap-top computer from some swingin’ sixties sci-fi show. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the Speak & Spell voice can be heard on countless electronic dance records (most notably on Kraftwerk’s 1981 Computer World album, which features Speak & Spell sound effects and voices on such tracks as ‘Computer World’ and ‘Home Computer’).

Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the Speak & Spell is that, beyond pronouncing individual letters and the words stored in its internal vocabulary, the Speak & Spell is mute. It cannot be made to pronounce new words (almost everybody who picks up a Speak & Spell tries to make it pronounce an obscenity; alas, it is impossible).

But there are ways to compromise a Speak & Spell. The experimental composer and instrument maker Qubais Reed Ghazala takes a Speak & Spell apart and rewires it. He calls this process circuit-bending, and the result of these accidental short-circuits and redirected signals make the Speak & Spell produce disturbingly twisted and nonsensical noises, the electronic equivalent of a machine speaking in tongues.

Dismantling this Speak & Spell Version 3 manufactured in December 1983 by Texas Instruments in Abilene, Texas reveals a printed circuit board (PCB) significantly smaller than the PCB of its predecessor. The Integrated Circuits (ICs) of the Speak & Spell Version 3 use 0.4” wide 28-pin SPDIP (Shrink Plastic Dual In-line Package with a 0.07” / 1.778 mm lead pitch) and a 0.6” wide 40-pin SPDIP encapsulations to safe real estate. Please notice the empty spot on the PCB, it accommodates either an additional TMC0350 memory chip with 128k Bits or TMC0355 with 32k Bits.

The clean design of the Speak & Spell Version 3 is centered around three Integrated Circuits:

TMC0271: 4-bit microcontroller with 2k*9 Bits ROM and 9*64 Bits RAM
TMC0281: TMS5100 VSP (Voice Synthesis Processor)
TMC0350/CD2350: TMS6100 VSM (Voice Synthesis Memory) with 128k Bits

The Speech-ROMs of the Speak & Spell vary depending on the production date. Starting in 1981 the word list was significantly reduced, differences in the voice tunes of the 1991 models are not known:

1979: TMC0351 and TMC0352
1981: TMC0350/CD2350(A)
1990: TMC0350/CD62175

An inside view of some dismantled Speak & Spell products could be found here.

SpeaknSpell_ET.jpg (103144 Byte)Perhaps the most famous appearance of the Speak & Spell is in the movie „E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial“, with its veritable shopping-basket-full of confectionery and toy-merchandise product placements. E.T. phones home on a modified Speak & Spell, somehow turning the nine-volt device into a transmitter capable of spanning intergalactic distances.

In 1986 we knew a total of 10 different plug-in modules for the Speak & Spell, a comprehensive overview including the wordlists could be found here

Please find some manuals of the listed modules in the Download Section of the Datamath Calculator Museum.

In Europe Texas Instruments introduced five French speaking "Module Magique" and in Italy we discovered recently a rare "SuperModule" for the Grillo Parlante.

The Speak & Spell plug-in modules are featured in the Texas Instruments Incorporated bulletins CL-557 and CL-557R dated 1980 resp. 1984.

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If you have additions to the above article please email:

© Joerg Woerner, November 26, 2020. No reprints without written permission.