Free Google app aims to help kids improve their Arabic reading skills
Is your kid looking to improve their Arabic literacy skills? You might want to check out Read Along by Google, the free Android app aimed at helping children over the age of five improve their reading skills.
Last week, the app - available in nine languages, including English, Spanish and Hindi, so far - added Arabic to the list.
Product marketing manager Nitin Kashyap noted during a demo earlier this month that the latest addition was one of the "most requested" languages on the app. With over 6,000 users from the Arab world since it first launched, that should come as no surprise.
The app - which can be used offline - is cost-free, ad-free, and uses an in-app reading buddy called Diya to make the learning experience fun for its young users. Powered by Google's advanced speech-to-text and text-to-speech recognition technology, it helps kids improve their reading skills through a combination of storybooks and education-based games.
Children can choose from a selection of 40 stories - available in varying difficulty levels. Diya helps them as they read along. Since launching the app in other languages this year, developers saw a "positive impact" on children's reading abilities with those who read at a speed of less than 45 correct words per minute seeing an improvement of anywhere from 35 to 85 per cent in their oral reading fluency after using the app for 100 minutes over the course of 2-3 weeks
"Diya is like your elder reading sister or buddy," said Nitin. "She's the human version of speech technology. She listens as kids read out the lines and gives them feedback. If they read it correctly, they get stars and badges. If the pronunciation is incorrect, she'll correct it. Alternatively, if kids are confused about how to read a word, they can just click on Diya and she'll help them out."
Nitin explained that the app is "resilient to different speech models" to allow for varying dialects and speech capabilities. "At the moment, we're permissive and leaning more towards accepting a pronunciation, more than rejecting it for slight variations. We want to increase their confidence in reading."
At the end of the week, parents and children will both be able to access reports generated by the app to gauge performance and time spent reading.
Nitin emphasised that the goal of the app was not to replace teachers. "To us, it's very clearly a supplementary tool to enable kids to do more."
Although unavailable in iOS at the moment (as it's "not the platform of choice in the targeted demographic"), Nitin confirmed that the developers are definitely testing a web version too.
Safety and privacy are at the core of the experience, he assured. The offline accessibility of the app ensures there are no unsupervised attempts to access the Internet and Nitin reiterated that no speech samples are ever recorded.
As part of the app's commitment to promote reading across the MENA region, they're currently inviting budding authors between the age of 5-11 to write and share their own stories for the chance to be published on global learning platforms. Deadline for submissions is September 30 and winners will be announced in October.