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Speaking of Apps

Soundable - Learn IPA the Fun Way

Published May 21, 2014 7:46 AM by Megan Sutton

Do you know the difference between /θ/ and /ð/? What about /æ/ and /aɪ/? Soundable is a new app that makes learning the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) fun.

Unlike other tile-based crossword games, Soundable uses sounds to build words instead of letters while friends challenge each other in word-making ability. Each tile is marked with an IPA symbol, and you can hear the sound when you touch it. If you're just getting started learning the IPA or are playing with someone who doesn't know IPA, you can flip to tiles with phonic spellings of each sound instead.


Soundable has many unique features that other games don't include. First, you can look up any word in the dictionary to see how it's transcribed. If a word isn't in the dictionary or transcribed the way you'd say it, play it anyway and "appeal" to let your opponent decide if it's valid. When you touch any tile on the board, you can see the words that were played in English orthography. You can choose to play either full games (all the tiles) or short games (a race to 200 points). Finally, you get 5 bonus points for each tile over three in the words you create, encouraging longer plays to keep the board open and fun.

I've learned a lot about English while developing and playing this game. You quickly realize there fewer sounds than letters in words, making the bonus points important to encourage playing longer words. Clusters are key to a high score in this game, so I've come to value /l, r, n, t/ in a whole new way. Differentiating between voiced and voiceless sounds is also very important to determine whether plurals are made with /s/ or /z/ and past tense created with /t/ or /d/. The /zh/ sound has become my worst enemy (unless I can play it on a triple sound square) so now I'm on the look-out for words like raj, beige, and luge. Non-speechie friends seem to disbelieve that stressed and unstressed "uh" and "er" are different, but those who have studied phonetics are well-acquainted with the stress-free life of the schwa.

The app is based on a standard North American accent, but of course there are many variations in pronunciation. The difference between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ may not even exist in some regions, so using the Look-Up and Appeal become essential. If you have a UK or Australian accent, I'm sure you'll have to appeal nearly every play!

Soundable is a free, ad-supported app for iPhone, though you can play on your iPad too. It was developed by Tactus Therapy Solutions and LessonPix. Future updates will allow you to challenge random opponents and chat about your plays. For now, invite your friends, classmates, colleagues, and family to sound out words in this unique social crossword game.

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posted by Megan Sutton


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About this Blog

    Speaking of Apps
    Occupation: Speech-Language Pathologist
    Setting: Rehabilitation
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