Phonics Studio – Not an Articulation App
Articulation is a major goal of speech pathology and apps for articulation are plentiful. Most are designed by SLPs and come with an appropriately high price tag for professional materials. Apps such as Articulation Station, Articulate it!, ArticPix, Pocket Artic, and Articulation Scenes lead the way with prices up to $50 for full versions of the apps. As an SLP focused on acquired disorders in adults, I'm always on the look-out for an articulation app appropriate for my apraxic and dysarthric patients that doesn't condescend. When I found Phonics Studio, I thought I had hit the jackpot.
Phonics Studio is a free universal app for iOS by Grasshopper Apps (aka Alligator Apps) that is being marketed to SLPs as an articulation app. It contains over 2500 beautiful full-color photos with an adult female voice providing the model. You can track multiple user's scores over time and record productions as you go. The recorded sound files attach the to email score report and are saved in the app. The app divides practice into core sounds in initial, medial, and final position as well as blends. You can even add your own words, record your own voice, and add your own categories. The "favorites" feature is a quick way to create a custom list - hit the star button on any word you want to go back to, such as ones that were particularly problematic, and then run a session of just those words. The interface is really easy to use and uncluttered - I applaud them on this aspect in particular. The only part of using the app that violates my "adult-friendly" criteria is the little monkey holding balloons that pops up when the session is over. Not a deal-breaker on it's own.
The deal-breaker for me with this app, as much as I want to love it, is that it's called Phonics Studio for a reason. This is NOT a SLP-designed articulation app. The app is organized by letters, not sounds. There are 26 categories to match the 26 letters of the alphabet, but of course English has at least 40 sounds (more in certain dialects). Right away this means that when a SLP targets a specific phoneme, there are going to be other phonemes that come up in this app. For example, when targeting the voiced alveolar fricative /z/ in medial position, the words maze, bronze, sneeze, and chimpanzee come up. Notice anything? Yep, these are final /z/ words - the orthographic e's are silent and don't matter in speech production. Want to practice final /z/? Many of the words that come up are actually /s/ final: Fritz, glitz, waltz, quartz. The vowels are even more of a mess: the "A blends" cover at least 4 different vowel sounds including diphthongs and r-controlled, and "Final E" doesn't have a final /e/ at all! We spent so long in grad school learning to dissociate sounds from spellings. This app must have been designed by and for literacy teachers, not speech paths.
There is also no control over word-length, complexity, or age level. In the initial /z/ words, you will encounter zodiac, zeppelin, zinnia, zest, Zeus, zenith, zero, and zoo. This makes for good teaching opportunities for vocabulary, but may distract from the goal of producing the sound - especially for those with apraxia of speech who can't handle 3-4 syllable words. You can delete words or make a "favorites" list of the ones you want, but busy clinicians need apps that just work.
One feature that most articulation apps have that this one doesn't is phrase and sentence-level practice. This app only has words, though you can have the client make up a phrase or sentence using the word. There is also no group option, a feature crucial for school-based SLPs seeing multiple kids with different goals. Given the lack of phoneme organization, word control, and phrase-level options, I will stick with paid apps that serve my needs without customization and work-arounds.
Do you use this app for sound practice? How do you deal with the problems described here? Is it worth it to pay for a professional SLP app? Which articulation app is your favorite?
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