What is Speech?

What is Speech? Speech is the physical production
of sound using our tongue, lips,
palate and respiratory system to
communicate ideas.

The Respiratory and Phonatory Systems

When we talk about the production of speech sounds it's best to start with the respiratory system. Speech is reliant on the powerful air flow that is supplied via our respiratory system.

When we breathe out the air travels up from our lungs, through our windpipe and out through a structure in our throats called a voice box (larynx). The larynx shapes the sound of our voices. The sound, or phonation, is produced by a pair of vocal folds that are situated in the larnyx.

The voice box can change the nature of the sounds coming out of our lungs. When we turn the larynx on it vibrates. That is, the voice box works to make the quiet sounds coming out of our lungs into loud sounds.

The larynx can do this very fast. It can switch from quiet sounds to loud sounds and back again. The larynx does this without us even noticing it.


Articulation is the name given to the precise movements of the tongue, palate, velum and lips to create the vowel and consonant sounds that make up the myriad phonemic elements of language. The amazing thing about articulation is that it must work in harmony with the respiratory and phonatory systems. It does this amazingly well.

What is Speech? cont...

Once the air from our lungs reaches our mouth (oral cavity) we can then make speech sounds. We make speech sounds by using our tongue, teeth and lips to control the air as it passes through our mouth.

Our lips, tongue and teeth all work together to turn the air from our lungs into speech sounds, and, ultimately, spoken words. We have a name for the speech sounds made by the lips, tongue and teeth. These sounds are called consonants. Consonants are created by obstructions of the air flow created by our tongue, teeth, and lips. In contrast, vowels are generally produced with an open vocal tract.

Eliciting Speech Sounds

Please click on the links to access information on how to elicit speech sounds for common speech sound errors.

Eliciting the /s/ Sound

Eliciting the /sh/ Sound

Eliciting the /k/ Sound

Eliciting the /f/ Sound


Secord, W. (1981) Eliciting Sounds: Techniques for Clinicians. The Psychological Corporation

Van Riper, C. & Erickson, R.L. (1996) Speech Correction: An Introduction to Speech Pathology and Audiology. Allyn & Bacon

Williams, A.L. McLeod, S. & McCauley, R.J.(2010)Interventions for Speech Sound Disorders in Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Content Updated 8/11

Return from What is Speech to Speech Sound Errors

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.