Alphabet-owned Google has added the Arabic language to its Read Along app that helps children over the age of five to improve their reading skills with the help of an in-app reading buddy.
Arabic was the most requested language by users since the app’s global launch in May this year, the company said on Tuesday. Read Along now supports 10 languages – English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi.
“Our idea is to make reading fun while creating an experience that is safe for children. The app recognises [a child's] voice, interacts with them, corrects them and gives feedback wherever it’s required,” Nitin Kashyap, Google’s product marketing manager, told Dubai media in a virtual product briefing.
Almost 100 million children between the ages of five and 17 in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced school closures since the Covid-19 pandemic began and many are relying on alternate means of education, according to Unicef.
Read Along, which was launched in March last year in India before a global roll-out, works even when users are offline. It is free to use and does not contain advertisements to avoid distractions.
There is a library of nearly 700 short stories in different languages, which are available to all users. The Arabic language content will initially contain 40 stories. The average story length is between 275-300 words, but the longest contains more than 2,000 words.
“We had only 50 stories when we started … right now, we have 180 stories in English and nearly 150 in Hindi. We are going slow as it takes a lot of effort to ensure the right experience,” Mr Kashyap said.
“We have no fixed number but we want to add two-to-three new languages every year,” he added.
The stories currently available have been read more than 31 million times, with almost five million hours of cumulative reading being recorded on the app, Google said.
Besides reading, users can also play language-based games aimed at building vocabulary such as detecting jumbled words and recognising letters through sounds.
Google said users’ speech data is safe as it is processed on the device itself and discarded.
The app has had a positive impact on children’s reading abilities, the company said. After using it for 100 minutes, children who read at a speed of less than 45 correct words per minute saw an improvement of anywhere from 35 per cent to 85 per cent in their oral reading fluency.