Announcing new voice features for early literacy

June 14, 2022

Rectangle Circle

Dublin, Ireland – June 14, 2022 — SoapBox Labs, the speech recognition company that powers joyful learning and play experiences for kids, today launches new early literacy features that make it easier for educators to identify and assess preschool and kindergarten kids’ ability to identify and pronounce letter names and sounds – also known as phonemic and phonological awareness. This technological breakthrough makes it possible for educators to understand much earlier whether kids are struggling with the building blocks of literacy, pinpoint the specific challenges, and intervene appropriately.   

“The global literacy crisis, exacerbated recently by the pandemic, is being felt most acutely by our youngest learners. This has created a sense of urgency among our education customers, and the team here at SoapBox, who’ve spent the last 6 months building and testing new voice engine features to support children from the earliest stages of their learning journey,” said Martyn Farrows, Ph.D., CEO of SoapBox Labs. “Acoustically, it’s very difficult to distinguish between these very short, individual utterances and sounds made by a young child. Delivering this breakthrough is a huge leap forward for literacy instruction, and for education curriculum and assessment companies globally.”  

Acoustically, it’s very difficult to distinguish between these very short, individual utterances and sounds made by a young child. Delivering this breakthrough is a huge leap forward for literacy instruction, and for education curriculum and assessment companies globally.

Dr. Martyn Farrows, CEO, SoapBox Labs

A number of studies across the U.S. have found that since the pandemic, nearly a third of children in early grades are missing their reading benchmarks. Foundational literacy skills like letter naming, phonics, and phonemic awareness are the building blocks for literacy, and a child’s level of phonemic awareness at the end of their first year in school is increasingly understood to be a strong indicator of future reading success. Today, all too often, however, identifying a struggling reader occurs much later in their literacy journey. Voice-enabled tools can change this by helping educators pinpoint where intervention is needed for a child as early as preschool or kindergarten. 

In today’s classrooms, assessing students’ phonemic and phonological awareness is a slow, time-consuming process. The release of SoapBox’s new features makes it possible for education companies to offer, for the very first time, voice-powered early literacy tools that automatically hear each phoneme — or sound — a child makes, returning accurate and granular feedback to educators. 

Most speech recognition systems on the market are only capable of looking for sounds strung together into a word. With these new early literacy features, SoapBox’s voice engine can now listen as a student individually sounds out each letter of a word like “captain” to accurately assess their level of phonological awareness, making it easier for teachers to pinpoint individual challenges across large numbers of students and personalize their support and instruction. 

“When students fail to learn to read, the instruction is often to blame. Positive and impactful instruction relies on providing regular and detailed feedback to children at every stage from learning letter sounds to words, phrases, and sentences,” said Dr. Mary Eisele, Vice President of Product Management at McGraw Hill. “The potential of these new voice features is enormous because it gives teachers — and young students — more feedback which means more opportunities for supportive learning and instruction.”

The potential of these new voice features is enormous because it gives teachers — and young students — more feedback which means more opportunities for supportive learning and instruction.

Dr. Mary Eisele, VP of Product Management, McGraw Hill

Relied upon by some of the largest education content, curriculum and assessment companies in the world, SoapBox Labs is the leading developer of speech technology designed just for kids. 

The SoapBox voice engine powers voice-enabled literacy, language learning, dyslexia screening, and speech therapy products, providing accurate data that has been proven to be on a par with human assessors, on a child’s literacy proficiency down to the individual phonemes uttered. Founder Dr. Patricia Scanlon has been named one of the top 50 women in tech globally by Forbes and a top “Visionary in Voice” by Voicebot in 2020.

These new early literacy features require no coding or bespoke development and come as standard off-the-shelf features for customers of SoapBox’s API. The new features, available to a shortlist of SoapBox customers since January 2022, are today being released to the market globally.

To learn more about the role of speech recognition technology in early literacy, join our webinar on June 16 at 11:00 am ET, and download our “Powering phonemic awareness” product sheet.

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