Introducing "Sounds Like"- Spell, Write! (Patent Pending)


What is "Sounds Like" ?

"Sounds Like"™ is software that helps you spell.

"Sounds Like" is a special on-screen keyboard wth word prediction. The on-screen keyboard has three types of of functions:

  1. A special phonetic keyboard (Patent Pending) for finding and typing words by reporting how those words sound.
  2. A standard keyboard typing letters (you can, of course, use the hardware keyboard as well).
  3. A numbers and functions keyboard for typing numbers and all those other unusual characters and functions you can select with a hardware keyboard.

In all three types of on-screen keyboards, you will be selecting keys displayed on the keyboards by pointing-and-clicking on them with your mouse.

Note:    If you like the phonetic approach to typing but have trouble seeing the key, using a pointer to point at keys, or clicking on a key, you should consider trying a sister product called REACH Interface Author™. The REACH™ program is loaded with features designed to improve computer access for persons with low vision or people who have trouble using pointers, switches, or hardware keyboards, and the  "Sound-It-Out Phonetic Keyboard™" add-on for REACH™ provides the same phonetic approach to typing as found in "Sounds Like" (Click here for more information on REACH™).

Like all products from AHF, "Sounds Like"™ was designed using a "human factors" approach, in which the designers concentrated on the target user population, worked with them, asked for their opinion, measured their performance under different conditions, etc., in order to determine their needs, capabilities, and preferences. As a result, a great deal of thought and planning went into this product to make it something that is usable and useful.

Introduction to the "Sounds Like"™ On-Screen Keyboard System

When you first run "Sounds Like," you will be given a chance to choose from several "keyboard themes." Each keyboard theme contains three keyboards: a phonetic keyboard, a standard typing keyboard (for typing letters), and a numbers and functions keyboard (for typing other characters). Also, the keyboards in each theme have a similar "feel" (for example, the color schemes might be the same for all three keyboards in a given theme).

You can change your keyboard theme anytime by selecting the "Go to Introduction & Themes" option in the Keyboard menu option. In the following sections, commonalities among the keyboards will be discussed first, followed by specific examples of each general type of keyboard (phonetic typing, typing letters, and typing numbers and functions).

Picture of the "Crystal" phonetic keyboard.

The picture above shows the "Crystal" phonetic keyboard.  While the different keyboards might vary considerably in their appearance and function, all keyboards in the different "Sounds Like"™ keyboard systems will have several features in common:

1.  An  "Undo Typing" Button (undoes last typing action)

2. An "Add Word to Dictionary" Button (you input both the sounds and the letters for a word)

3.  A   "Load Phonetic Keyboard" Button (loads the phonetic keyboard)

4.  A  "Load Typing Keyboard" Button (loads the standard typing keyboard)

5.  A "Load Numbers & Functions Keyboard" Button.  (loads a keyboard for typing numbers and functions)

6.  A   "Speak Highlighted Text" Button (reads highlighted text)

7.  A  "Stop Speech" Button (stops any ongoing speech)

8.  A "Minimize Keyboard" Button (minimizes the keyboard)

9.  A "Resize Keyboard" Button (click and it resizes to large keyboard, click again and it resizes to smaller keyboard) 

10. An "Exit Sounds Like" Button (click to exit "Sounds Like"™)

11. A Word Prediction "Word Bar" (displays a list of candidate words - click on one to type it)

How does it work?

The "Sounds Like"™ phonetic keyboard lets you to "type" a word by inputting its sounds (e.g., "phonemes") instead of its letters. Originally targeted for persons with spelling disabilities, this approach can be useful to anyone who knows how a word sounds but not how it is spelled. Using this approach, significant improvements in spelling accuracy were found for persons both with and without spelling disabilities.

Shown below is the "Pictures" phonetic keyboard. Each phonetic key has a picture of an object intended to help cue the user of the sound for that key. This feature was included to help anyone who might benefit from seeing pictures for cues – for example, in the picture below the key for the "D" sound shows the picture of a "dog."  Anyone who does not need or benefit from the pictures can pick one of the other phonetic keyboards.

The "Pictures" phonetic keyboard.

Each phonetic key represents a sound – most are just phonemes but for some keys, phonemes have been combined in an attempt to make them more easy to interpret and use. The consonant sounds are located together on the left side of the keyboard and the vowel sounds are on the right. Other standard computer keyboard keys such as "Enter," "Shift," etc., are on the extreme right and lower right. Each phonetic key has a text label intended to help the user determine what sound that key represents (e.g., "a" for the short A – 'AE' sound, and "A" for long A – 'EY' sound).

In addition to the text label and picture, you can hear a sound recording of the sound assigned to a key by pointing at it for a specified time (you can adjust how long in the Sounds Like Settings). This recording might say "bih – bus" when pointing at the "B.." key on the Pictures keyboard.  As an option, you can hear just the phonetic sound "bih" when you point at the "B.." key (select "Change Phoneme Key Sound..." in the Keyboard Menu). These recordings also can be turned off if you don't want or need them.  

As you select the sounds in a word, the "Say It!" replay window can be shown to remind you what sounds you already entered as shown in the picture below.  In Frame 1, the user has selected an initial "T" sound, in Frame 2 a "long A" sound, and in Frame 3 a final "P" sound (to type the word "tape).  At any point, when clicked with your mouse, the "Say It" button (on the right side) attempts to "blend" the sounds already selected. However, the quality of this blending will depend on the speech synthesizer you are using.

The "Say It!" Replay window shown while using the Pictures Phonetic Keyboard to type "tape."

Note: With some speech synthesizers the quality of the phonetic blending produced by selecting the "Say It!" button might be poor or even non-existent (no sound is produced).

It might be useful to give an example of how you would use a phonetic keyboard to type a word. Let's say you already have typed "Will you turn on the" using a conventional keyboard, a "Sounds Like"™ on-screen typing keyboard, or a phonetic keyboard. Now you want to finish the sentence by typing the word "light," but you are not sure that you know how to spell it correctly. If you are new at using phonetic keyboards, your first job is to explore the different sound keys offered and try to find the one that represents the first sound in the word "light" – the "L" sound.

Pictures phonetic keyboard after an initial "L" sound key is selected.

After you locate and click on the "L-sound" key, three things happen (compare the picture above with the earlier picture of the Pictures phonetic keyboard):

1. In the word prediction windows located just above the keyboard, the most frequently used words which begin with the "L sound" are displayed. If you are not sure what those words are, you can point at them and "Sounds Like"™ will read them aloud. If you see/hear the target word, you type it by clicking on it.

2. A feature similar to Applied Human Factors' "Smart Keys™" goes to work showing you only the sounds that immediately follow the sequence you have selected, based on the words in the currently loaded dictionary. For example, the above picture shows that after selecting an initial "L sound" all of the consonant sounds are removed, leaving most of the vowel sounds. There apparently are no words in the currently loaded phonetic dictionary that have a consonant sound following an initial "L sound." Keys for unlikely sounds are removed to help make it easier for you to locate the next sound.

3. To provide you feedback about which sounds you already selected, a new "Replay" window is presented in a location close to the text caret of the program you are typing into. This window currently shows the "L sound" key you just selected and a "Say It!" button.

Continuing with the example of typing the word "light," your job now is to find and select the second sound in the target word "light" – the "long I" sound. After you find and click on the "long I" (AY) sound key, the phonetic keyboard changes again as shown in the picture below.

The Pictures keyboard after both the "L" sound and the "long I" sounds selected.

Notice that the word prediction words have changed. They now show the most likely words to begin with the sound formed by combining the L phoneme and the long I phoneme. If you are reading this information "in color," notice that the first word on the left "lie" has a yellow background while all the other words have the same gray background as before. The yellow background is a cue indicating that the word "lie" is now completed. If you had been seeking the target word "lie," then you would know that you have entered all the sounds and so you should check any word in yellow to see if it is the target word by pointing at it and listening to it.

Of course, depending on your reading ability and familiarity with seeing the word "lie," you might recognize it and not need to hear it to know that it is the word you are after. Also, if you are familiar enough with the actual target word "light," you might notice that it is one of the words already offered in one of the word prediction windows. If so, you could click on it and it would be typed into your word processing program (or whatever program you are typing into).

Also shown in the above picture, the keyboard is updated by "Smart Phonemes" to show you the sounds that follow "L + long I." Finally, notice that the "Say It!" window has been updated to include both of the sounds already selected.

Now you search for the third and final sound in the target word – the "T" sound. After you find and click on the key representing the "T" sound, the "Sounds Like"™ program again goes into action and changes the keyboard, the word prediction windows, and Say It! Replay window (see the picture below).

Pictures keyboard after the final "T" sound is selected.

You know that you have finished entering the sounds for the target word, so you should check out any yellow word(s) to see (or hear) if it is the one you are after. By pointing at the yellow "light" word, you hear the synthesizer say "light" and confirm it is the correct word. Again, depending on your abilities, background, and familiarity with seeing the word "light," you might simply recognize the word and click on it to type it. Either way, you have found, typed, and correctly spelled the target word.

If you complete a word and find that two or more words are shown in yellow, that means they are "homophones" – words that have different meanings but which sound alike – such as "for" and "four". In the picture above, notice that there are two words in yellow: "light" and "lied." These two words are not true "homophones" like the words "to, too, and two," but they have been made homophones by "Sounds Like"™ because, depending on how you pronounce the last sound in each word, they easily could be confused by some people.

Depending on the words you are seeking, you might see two, three, or even more yellow homophones appear. Whether true homophones or words that might sound alike only to some people, the "Sounds Like"™ program provides you with help when these occur. This help is signaled by a "question mark" shown in the same word box.  When a blue question mark is shown it means that this word sounds similar to at least one other word, but no such word is currently being shown in the other word prediction boxes. If a green question mark is shown, it means that at least one of the other words that it sounds like is now being shown in one of the other word prediction boxes.

Whether the question mark is blue or green, if you point at any such word, you can see and hear that word used in a short phrase or "homophone hint." This is done to help you decide if that word is the one you are after. For example, the picture below shows what you would see if you pointed at the word "lied."  The brief phrase "not true, he lied" is shown and also read aloud to help you decide if this is the "L + long I + T" word that you are after.

The word "lied" when pointed at in the word prediction window.

Because the phrase "not true, he lied" doesn't seem right for the word you are after, you can point at the other completed "L + long I + T" word and when you do, you hear and see the phrase shown below. This one sounds more like the "light" you are after, so you click on it and the word "light" is typed for you.

The word "light" when pointed at in the word prediction window.

There are a few points to make about these "homophone hints." First, they are not definitions, they are just short expressions that include that word. These phrases were created with the goal of making it more clear about the underlying meaning(s) of the word and to help you distinguish it from the other word(s) that sound like it.

Second, many words have several meanings. When this is true for a word, what are judged to be the more major meanings of the word are presented in different phrases separated by the word "OR" in capital letters (see the picture above). The goal is to convey the more common uses of the word, for example, in the above hint, the word "light" is presented as a noun, an adjective, and a verb.

Third, to keep the phrases short, another strategy used was to determine if there was another word that had an "opposite" or extremely different meaning. If so, then that word was included in the phrase. For example, if you saw the word "higher" with a question mark in one of the word prediction boxes and pointed at it, you would see what is shown in the picture below. Notice that the word "NOT" in all capital letters is used to compare the selected word with some other word that has a very different or opposite meaning.

The word "higher" when pointed at in a word prediction box.

Fourth, sometimes these different strategies are combined. For example if you had pointed at the word "left" shown in one of the pictures above, you would have seen and heard what is shown below.


An example of a homophone phrase in which both "NOT" and "OR" are used to help convey two possible common meanings of the word "left."

Depending on your ability and experience, you might not want to hear these phrases read aloud. If you want to see these hints when you point at a word but not hear them read aloud, you can turn that off.  In fact, you might be very good at knowing the difference between such homophones and want to turn them off completely – so you don't see or hear them. If so, select the "Homophone Help..." option in the Word Prediction menu and the Homophone Help dialog box is displayed.

Homophone Help dialog box.

Here, you can select whether the homophone hints are not shown, shown when you point at the word in the word prediction window, or shown all the time.

Before completely turning off the homophone hints, remember that even very educated people with considerable experience with language can confuse some homophones. For example, knowing the differences between principal and principle, desert and dessert, arc and ark, pail and pale, sight and site and cite, sewn and sown, chord and cord, flair and flare, vain and vein and vane, decent and descent, dosed and dozed, elegant and eloquent, ensure and insure, capitol and capital, complement and compliment, etc., can be difficult for a lot of people.

One important point should be made before continuing. The above example (in which the word "light" was typed) was pretty easy in that the sounds forming the word "light" are quite distinctive. What about words that contain more "fuzzy" sounds or combinations of sounds? The pronunciation you report for a word can be influenced by where you live (your "dialect"), by your education, by your ability to hear in general, by your ability to discriminate among sounds in words, by your familiarity with the target word, by common mispronunciations, by your ability to report pronunciations, and by simply getting the sounds wrong.

AHF has taken steps to try to reduce the risk that such factors might reduce your chance of finding the word you are after. You shouldn't have to be able to perfectly pronounce a word in order to find it. Also, the goal here is not to teach you the "correct" pronunciation for a given word (although that could be a goal for some future AHF products). Rather, the goal is to allow reasonable variations in pronunciation of a target word to all result in the production of that word – we want you to find and write the word you are after!

On the other hand, when too much variation is allowed, some users might find some of the words presented a little unusual because they do not seem to match the sounds they selected. As a result, AHF has provided four different dictionaries to choose from which vary in the number of words they contain and in the amount of variation in pronunciation they provide.

In the above example of finding/typing/spelling the word "light," the final "T" sound provides an example to demonstrate the possibility of varying pronunciations leading to the same word.  It is conceivable that some user of this program might hear, say, or report the final "T" sound in the word "light" as a "D" sound because of the similarities in those two sounds.

With the "Sounds Like"™ program you can make such a "mistake," and still end up being offered "light" (the word you were after). In this example, whether you select a "T" sound or a "D" sound for the final sound in "light," the word "light" is presented. In fact, both the word "light" and the word "lied" are presented along with homophone hints to help you decide which one you are looking for. Similarly, if your target word had been "lied," and you made a similar "mistake" of entering "L + long I + T," you also would have found your target word. By allowing variation in pronunciation to lead to the same word, AHF is increasing your chance of finding the word you are seeking.

What if the word you are after is not in the dictionary; or what if the word you are after is in the dictionary but the pronunciation that you use for that word is not included? In either case, the solution is to add that word to your "Sounds Like"™ User Dictionary, and provide your pronunciation of that word so that you can find it again.

Changing the Size of the Keyboard

At any time, you can point at one of the edges of a keyboard and drag it to a larger/smaller size.  If you use the "grip" located in the bottom right corner, it tries to keep the length and width proportional.  You also can click on the resize button in the upper right corner to restore the size and dimensions of the keyboard and to a relatively large size.  Click it again and the keyboard will change to a smaller size.

Adding Words or Pronunciations to the "Sounds Like" User Dictionary

If a word that you often use is not in the dictionary, or if the word is in the dictionary but you use a different pronunciation, press the "Add Word" button to produce the "Sounds Like"- Add a Word Wizard dialog box.  Just follow the directions - you first will be asked to enter your pronunciation for the word and then you will be asked to enter the word (using a standard on-screen keyboard).  Be careful to spell the word correctly when you type it in.

Deleting Pronunciations and Words from the Phonetic Dictionaries

If you want to get rid of a specific pronunciation for a word, 1) input the entire pronunciation (so the word is shown in yellow), 2) right click on that word, and 3) select the "Delete this pronunciation of (the word)" option from the resulting drop-down list. To remove a word completely, you must find all pronunciations that lead to that word and use this procedure to delete each of them.

Go To AHF Home

Go To REACH Interface Author