The toy was originally advertised as a tool for helping young children to become literate, learn to spell and learn the alphabet. The early Speak & Spell units were sold in 1978. Variants included the Speak & Read, which was yellow with blue and green accents and focused on reading comprehension, and the Speak & Math, which was grey with blue and orange and centered on mathematics. A French Speak & Spell, La Dictée Magique, was sold primarily in Canada, while an Italian Grillo Parlante and German Buddy were sold in their respective countries. The German Buddy is particularly rare. The American version of Speak & Spell had an American accent and American spellings, and the British version used British spellings and had a British accent.
There was another variant called Speak and Spell Compact, it was cheaper as it had no display - an expensive component. This was launched in the US only but was seen as an inferior derivative and sales were very poor. The UK was forced to take some of the excess stock, but seeing the problem this would cause the Marketing Manager (Martin Finn) had the product rebranded Speak and Write for the UK only. All existing units we recoloured blue and repackaged, and it sold well enough to clear the shelves. No more units were made of this model.
The word list used in each of the regional models is different to reflect the recommendations of educationalists in each country. The English, French, German and Italian versions were all created, by a team of non specialists, in TI's plant near Antibes, France, under the watchful eye of Larry Brantingham who had patented the underlying technology.
Phoneme data was stored on a pair of 128 Kbit metal gate PMOS ROMs. 128 Kbit was a very large capacity ROM in the late 1970s. An additional memory module could be plugged into a slot in the battery compartment and selected via a button on the keyboard.
A later model, the Super Speak & Spell, had a much slimmer case and an LCD screen rather than a VFD screen.
The unit could use either 4 "C" batteries or 6 volt DC power adapter with positive tip polarity.
The secret code works by matching up two sets of the alphabet, slightly askew. P and Q match up and run in opposite directions:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
F E D C B A Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J I H G
Percom Data Company offered a PC Card called "Speak-2-Me-2" which installed into the battery compartment of the Speak & Spell, and connected via cable to a TRS-80.
East Coast Micro Products offered hardware to inferface 6502-based computers such as the Commodore 64 and Apple IIe with the Speak & Spell. A program called "S.peek.uP" was marketed which could control this hardware.
Texas Instruments itself later adapted the Speak & Spell's technology into a speech synthesizer accessory for it's popular TI-99/4A computer.
Some musicians have used the Speak & Spell in their compositions, sometimes through the use of Circuit Bending. Examples include TLC (Fanmail), Family Force 5 (Cadillac Phunque), Limp Bizkit (Behind Blue Eyes), CocoRosie (Animals), COIL, Scrabbel (Robot Song), LFO, 808 State, Experimental Audio Research, Gym Class Heroes, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Polysics, Leftfield, Beck, Aphex Twin, Venetian Snares, Doormouse, Moog Cookbook, Meat Beat Manifesto, Hexstatic, Darren Emerson, Freezepop, Optiganally Yours, Sigh, Win, Circle Research, and the Artificial Sea. Also used by Claude Woodward (The Sonic Manipulator) Two tracks on Eisbrecher's 2008 album "S%C3%BCnde" include Speak & Spell excerpts.
Brian Duffy, with the modified toy orchestra creates any vocal parts of songs using a Speak & Spell.
Speak and Spell was also used by the character Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist 3.