The Speech Chain: Understanding How We Communicate

By Prapoorna M

Last Updated: November 27, 2021

Introduction to Speech Communication

Communication is a process that happens between two people: the speaker and the listener. The way this communication is sent, or the channel, is very important. Let’s look at what happens during this process.

The Speaker’s Role

The speaker starts by deciding to say something. This decision happens in the brain’s higher centers. The thought then moves through the brain’s language areas, where it is turned into words. These words are put in the right order and formed into language.

How Speech is Produced

Girl showing her tongue and throat to speech therapist for inspection
Girl showing her tongue and throat to speech therapist for inspection

This language then creates a speech motor program in the brain. This program sends signals to the lower parts of the brain, which control the muscles used in speaking, like those in the diaphragm, larynx, tongue, jaw, and lips. Most of this happens without us even thinking about it and includes automatic corrections.

Physical Aspects of Speech

Next, muscle movements in our speech organs push air through our vocal cords. This air can make different sounds, like normal talking, whispering, or other types of voice. The sound is shaped in our vocal tract before leaving our mouth and nose.

Transmission and Reception of Sound

These sounds become sound waves in the air. These waves can be changed into digital or analog forms for things like phone calls or recordings. When someone else hears these sounds, their ears and brain work together to understand them. The sound waves hit the eardrum, are turned into mechanical movements, and then into electrical signals that the brain can understand.

Speech therapist training a child
Speech therapist training a child

The Listener’s Experience

The listener’s brain, using both conscious and subconscious thought, uses past memories and current context to understand what the speaker is saying. This understanding helps the listener figure out what the speaker means and their emotional state. The listener can then respond, starting the cycle again.

The Speech Chain Explained

In simpler terms, the speaker thinks of something and sends signals to their speech muscles. These muscles make sounds, which travel to the listener. The listener’s ears and brain work together to decode these sounds into meaningful language. This whole process is known as the speech chain.