New educational app helps children with reading and spelling difficulties



In Germany, between five and ten percent of the population suffers from reading and spelling difficulties. For about 40,000 children per year, these shortcomings lead to learning problems in school and affect their self-confidence. It often goes so far that they completely lose the desire to learn.

Linguists, computer scientists and psychologists University of Tübingen and the Tübingen Institute for Learning Therapy (Tübinger Instituts für Lerntherapie, TIL) have now developed the digital educational game ‘Prosody‘for tablets and smartphones to help children in difficulty. “Many children with dyslexia have a hard time recognizing the rhythm of speech and where the stress lies in the syllables of words,” says Heiko Holz, one of the developers and research associate at the Linguistics Seminar and doctoral student at LEAD Graduate School & Research Network at the University of Tübingen.

Learn in a fairytale landscape

These difficulties are a real obstacle to learning to write, explain the researchers. This is because the emphasis on syllables plays a major role in applying important spelling rules. For example, in stressed syllables, long vowels in German are denoted by an ‘ie’ or h (e.g. ‘fehlen’, ‘biene’), while short vowels are denoted by ‘ck’ (‘packen’ ) or double consonant letters (“rennen”). Anyone who does not understand these rules for signaling vowel lengths is missing an essential element of German spelling, ”he continues.

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This is where Prosodie comes in. In the fictional land of “Prosodie”, a colorful fairy tale landscape, children practice dividing individual words into syllables step by step and recognizing stressed syllables. They learn to distinguish syllables with long and short vowels and eventually apply the spelling rules to them. At the start of the game, however, Prosodiya appears to be shrouded in a murky haze. This only lifts when children acquire the “power of words” using the “balls of light”. Round figures help children learn syllable patterns and spell words.

The big ball of green light jumps on the stressed syllables of the words, the small yellow on the unstressed ones. A ball of red light with its mouth open marks long vowels, a ball of blue light with its mouth closed marks short vowels.

Prosody writing exercise © Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

It has already proven its effectiveness

Prosodiya can be played by children at home without the help of adults. This is especially important for children with an immigrant background whose parents do not know enough German to help them, explains Heiko Holz. The plan is for children to play three to five times a week for fifteen minutes each time over a ten week period. The lessons are unlocked gradually so that the young players do not “devour” the episodes one after the other, which would reduce the impact that this has on their learning.

A first study had already demonstrated the effectiveness of the application. In 130 schoolchildren in grades two to four – many of whom had reading and spelling difficulties – the app was shown to dramatically improve their spelling skills and awareness of how syllables are stressed. In fact, as an added bonus, many children also read much better.

Always free

Die ganze „Macht der Worte“ haben die Kinder am Ende des Spiels jedoch nicht, da es in dem ersten Prosodiya-Modul vor Allem um die Grundformen der Wörter geht. „Die Herausforderungen zusammengesetzter, abgeleiteter und gebeugter Wörter – zum Bespiel„ sieht “mit ie und h – müssen die Children do not really master all the“ power of words ”at the end of the game, of course, as the first Prosodiya module is mainly focuses on the basic forms of words. “The challenges of compound, derivative, and inflected words – for example, ‘sieht’ with ‘ie’ and ‘h’ – are something children have yet to master. A second module, incorporating inflection models and word families, is already in preparation.

The educational game can be downloaded as an app and is still available for free until the end of this school year. After that, the Tübingen Institute for Learning Therapy (TIL) will launch the app on the market as a spin-off. The project was developed as part of a project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It was also funded by the Baden-Württemberg Media and Film Society and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.

Title image: Prosody exercise for accentuation © Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

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