I don't recall having any "educational" toys as a kid, and I'm fine with that because educational toys are stupid. There was nothing worse than hearing people say, "Want to go to the toy store?" and then they go to Zany Brainy. Ugh....Awful.
As a result of only having cool toys, I don't know much about the various ones designed to teach children, but I do recall one specifically. One which was featured in the blockbuster Steven Spielberg film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Texas Instrument's Speak & Spell.
Even as I put this post together, I was stunned by how many variations had been released between its inception in 1979 and today. Not only that, but by how many different "branding" versions there were. I never knew until I started looking into this that there was Math, Reading and (UK Exclusive) Writing versions.
For today's post, I'm going to be looking at the 1979 to 1988 era, and for the most part, just the actual devices, and not the the cartridges. However, in doing so, I will be focusing in specifically on 1982.
Speak & Spell was launched in 1978, and with it came a slew of modules for use with the basic unit. These included, but again, are not show, Vowel Power, Super Stumpers 4 - 6, Super Stumpers 7 - 8, Basic Builders, and Mighty Verbs.
In addition to its United States, or North America release, the basic unit also got distributed in the United Kingdom. However, only two of the modules were distributed for the latter; Vowel Power and Mighty Verbs.
The "console" became such a successful educational tool that by 1980, Texas Instruments began expanding on the product. They not only reissued the original Speak & Spell, this time with a red banner at the top left of the package, but also included all new modules; Homonym Heroes, Noun Endings, Magnificent Modifiers, and Vowel Ventures.
Texas Instruments also branched out into two all new units in the "speak" series with Speak & Read, and Speak & Math.
Though the units served their purpose as educational toys during these noted years, 1982 would bring it to the forefront in a big way, when it was not only featured in the blockbuster film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but utilized heavily to advance the story.
Now obviously, E.T. is a stupid movie that is ultimately pointless thanks to the gaping plot hole in the film. I've talked about it before, but I'll sum it up again. When E.T. lift's Elliot's bike into the air for the iconic flying scene, the entire weight of the film comes crashing down. If E.T. could fly, why did he stand on the ground to be left behind by the very slow ship lifting off at the beginning? Just fly up to it, pop open a hatch, in, gone, done.
Despite the poor film writing, Texas Instruments made sure to cash in on the Speak & Spell's cameo appearance. This first began with a sticker being adhered to boxes in noting that this was the toy as seen in the film.
What's interesting about this is that Texas Instrument also slapped the label on the Speak & Read and Speak & Math, neither of which were in the film.
Texas Instruments would then double down on this advertising opportunity by releasing not only an E.T. boxed basic unit, but also a module, which I will show, entitled, E.T. Fantasy Module.
I don't honestly know if this helped to sell more Speak & Spell's in 1982, but if nothing else, the boxes are cool, and nostalgic E.T. fan's dream come true for fun and unique products to hunt down.
TI followed up this release with the redesigned Speak & Spell Compact, however the unit didn't sell well, and was ultimately recolored and shuffled off to the UK, where the majority of the stock was sold.
In addition to this, the UK also saw the exclusive release of the Speak & Write Compact. France also received the exclusive Speak & Math Compact. However, due to their limited releases, I was not able to obtain a sufficient photo of the boxes to post here.
There wouldn't be a "new" package design for the Speak series until 1984, when Texas Instruments released these very colorful iterations. It's funny how they incorporated a bunch of children on the box with the unit, as if it were some form of group activity, or video game console.
What's interesting to note is that if there were any new modules released during this time, nobody seems to have a list of them. Did TI really try to float these based on just the original ones? I honestly don't know.
The 80's saw one final release for the Speak & Spell, this time with the newly designed Super edition.
Super Speak & Spell, released in 1987, featured all sorts of upgrades, such as all new buttons and a new display. Additionally, the unit was designed with a flip cover, making it more sleek and mature. There was however one drawback to this. The new design also featured slimmer module cartridges, meaning all the older ones were not compatible with it. A Super Speak & Math followed this release in 1990.
Since then, Texas Instruments has released classic versions of their Speak & Spell unit throughout the past decades. However, in this growing age of digital learning, Smart devices and other such handheld items that many children have at their fingertips, I can't help but feel that it's more so as a nostalgic nod, aimed at the adult collector, versus a child. Much like the calculator, there's really no reason for its existence other than to serve as memories of a time long gone.
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