The tenth sense: SPEECH

Speech is the tenth sense among the twelve that Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education, developed and introduced about 100 years ago.

The sense of speech is the second of the higher senses, classified as the spiritual or knowledge senses and focus particularly on the other.  The last three senses (speech, thought, and ego), are exclusively observed with human beings. When Steiner began his work with the senses, he started with these three.  He was especially interested in how humans interacted with one another.

van Gelder explains the distinction between perception of sound and speech brilliantly.  He says, “When listening to human speech, you perceive the vowels and consonants which make up all words. Your ears perceive both the acoustic and the musical aspects of language, but not the essence, or meaning of speech. The actual words are perceived by another sense that we refer to as the sense of speech. When you meet someone, their posture and facial expression, the look in their eyes, the gestures of their hands and body, and the sound of their voice all reveal information about their inner state and character. By listening to the words people say, you can observe their thoughts, opinions, judgments, experiences and personality.

When listening to someone speak, the first thing you perceive is not what is being said, but the rhythm and intonation. Rhythm and intonation – reveal agreement or rejection, scorn or admiration, good or bad intentions, and so on. You hear more than just the meaning of the words. Brief reactions can be interpreted quite accurately on the basis of context and – nuances of tone alone. You can perceive how the speaker intended to convey the message, and in doing so you have observed something about the speaker’s inner being.

Letters, words and stories have a different quality to tones and melodies. Words harbour connotations, or gestures, that can be perceived. Quick has a different gesture to fast, sluggish is not the same as slow. The basic meaning might be the same, but the letters that make up the word make a different gesture. A word is in effect a phonemic image of a series of letters. Observation of the phonemic image is not the same as hearing.”

Steiner proposed that when we hear phonetic sounds, we not only hear with our ears, but also with our entire muscular system.  He developed a theory that different and specific micro movements can be observed when humans speak AND listen to specific phonetic sounds.  These are called phonemic gestures. van Gelder reports, “these movements have been recorded by high-speed photography of people talking. Within 50 milliseconds (0.005 second), the listener starts making the same micro-movements as the speaker.”  This is a universal phenomenon.  van Gelder adds, “the same letter provokes the same movements in different people, independent of culture. Babies make these micro-movements in response to speech from the day they are born.”

Speech is related to the sense of movement. (Go here for more information on the sense of movement.)

First, Steiner connected each of the lower senses to each of the higher senses.  Tunkey says,

  1. Expressed in a positive way, this means that any activity that helps one of the four lower senses will also be vital to the development of its companion higher sense.
  2. Expressed in the opposite way, so-called learning difficulties-such as inabilities to pay attention or stay with the class, struggles to form or remember thoughts, hindrances with language or listening skills-fall into the four higher sense categories. Therefore, if a child has a learning difficulty, you can look at this as a problem of incomplete development of the matching lower sense, and work with that…rather that only working directly on the label or manifestation in the higher faculty.


In this case, speech and movement are natural companions. Movement requires awareness of where you are in space and how you navigate your body through space.  It is related to the proprioceptive system.  When we develop the sense of movement, we will help with the development of speech skills as well.

How does this relate to Unitarian Universalism and Religious Exploration?

The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism are the ideas which we affirm to “hold as strong values and moral guides.”

I identified twelve key concepts that appear throughout them.  These are:









Democratic process




When we make a conscious effort to fortify the sense of speech, we will in turn be developing awareness of connectedness, justice, compassion, encouragement, and democratic process.

 What can you do to fortify this sense?

Tunkey suggests, “tumbling, crawling games, jump rope, string games, blindfold games, ball bouncing, and jacks.”

van Gelder suggests, “Listen closely to someone. Note what you hear in their voice: the substance of what they are saying, the connotations, pitch, and so on. Describe as many aspects as possible. Now try to observe without paying attention to the denotative meaning of the words. What do you now hear in their voice? (It is not easy to ignore the meaning. You could try listening to a language that you do not understand. What gestures do you observe in that language?)

Describe the difference between a singing bird and a piece of music, or more generally the difference between an animal sound and a nature sound or music.

Listen to the difference between a tune played on a flute or recorder, and the tune when you whistle it yourself.”

My best to you with many blessings,

Amy Huntereece, M. Ed.

DRE, Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Flagstaff, AZ


van Gelder, T. (n.d.). Sense of speech. Retrieved from

Working with the 12 senses Touch, Health, Movement and Balance as a Foundation for Academic Progress by Jeff Tunkey