In this paper, we present an automatic speech recognition (ASR) system based on the combination of an automatic phone recogniser and a computational model of human speech recognition – SpeM – that is capable of computing ‘word activations’ during the recognition process, in addition to doing normal speech recognition, a task in which conventional ASR architectures only provide output after the end of an utterance. We explain the notion of word activation and show that it can be used for ‘early recognition’, i.e. recognising a word before the end of the word is available. Our ASR system was tested on 992 continuous speech utterances, each containing at least one target word: a city name of at least two syllables. The results show that early recognition was obtained for 72.8% of the target words that were recognised correctly. Also, it is shown that word activation can be used as an effective confidence measure.