A method and computer-readable medium use syllable-like units (SLUs) to decode a pronunciation into a phonetic description. The syllable-like units are generally larger than a single phoneme but smaller than a word. The present invention provides a means for defining these syllable-like units and for generating a language model based on these syllable-like units that can be used in the decoding process. As SLUs are longer than phonemes, they contain more acoustic contextual clues and better lexical constraints for speech recognition. Thus, the phoneme accuracy produced from SLU recognition is much better than all-phone sequence recognition.