Google’s Read Along taps AI to improve kids’ reading skills

Google today launched Read Along, an Android app that taps AI and machine learning to help children learn to read by providing verbal and visual feedback. After first debuting in India, it’s now available in over 180 countries (excepting the Philippines, Denmark, and Colombia) and in nine languages including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

Preliminary research suggests that apps like Read Along could significantly improve children’s reading skills. A three-month pilot of Read Along’s predecessor — Bolo — in the Unnao district of India involving 1,500 children across 200 villages found that, compared with a control group, 39% of the app’s users reached the highest level of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) reading assessment test and 64% saw an increase in scores. Moreover, 92% of parents said they noticed some improvement in their child’s skills.

Read Along comes preloaded with around 500 stories and interactive games within those stories, for which kids earn stars and badges as they learn, practice, and progress. An in-app assistant called Diya demonstrates how to pronounce words and sentences and uses natural language processing to detect whether a student’s struggling or successfully reading a passage, and it gives them positive and reinforcing feedback along the way.

Within Read Along, parents can create profiles for multiple readers, who tap on their photo to learn at their pace and to track their individual progress. The app personalizes kids’ experiences by recommending the difficulty level of stories and games based on their reading level performance.

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Google Read Along

Google Read Along

Read Along engineering lead Zohair Hyder notes that the app has no ads or in-app purchases and that it works without Wi-Fi or data. Parents need only connect it to the internet to download additional stories.

“Read Along is … easy to start and doesn’t require sign in. Even the voice data is analyzed in real time on the device — so that it works offline — and is not sent to any Google servers,” added Hyder. “Read Along will continue to improve as we receive feedback from families, expanding the selection of books and adding more features.”

The launch of Read Along follows that of narrated children’s stories on Google Assistant. Last April, Google brought Tell Me a Story, a Google Home smart speaker feature that reads aloud stories from popular franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Blaze and the Monster Machines, to Android and iOS devices in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and India. In a related development, in October 2018, Google teamed up with Disney and Penguin Random House for a read-along app that paired the latter’s Little Golden Books series with music and ambient noise.