“The word is on the tip of my tongue...” How often have we all said that! Many children know what they want to say, but have a hard time translating their thoughts into words on paper. Kids who are just learning to write, or have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, or who have vocabularies that far surpass their spelling and writing skills, can all benefit from a program that helps them put their thoughts into words. Put in the simplest terms, WordQ ($185) is a word prediction program, and SpeakQ ($185) adds speech recognition.
WordQ provides a small word prediction box that follows along as the student types and continuously predicts the next word based on the content. This allows the student uninterrupted typing until he is stuck, and then he can refer to the handy box with several possible words to choose from, which can also be read aloud to help choose the correct word. After each word or after each sentence, the program can read back what was just typed because sometimes it is easier to catch mistakes through hearing them than seeing them. SpeakQ adds powerful, yet simple, voice recognition to the mix so the student can dictate their writing with the aid of the word prediction box to improve accuracy. WordQ can be used by itself, but SpeakQ will only work within WordQ. Both programs were researched and developed at the Bloorview MacMillan Children’s Centre, a rehabilitation hospital for children, which may help explain the powerful features in an easy-to-use format.
The beauty of these two programs is their power within simplicity. My family found them extremely easy to use, and yet they offer so many options and such flexibility that we can tailor the program the way it is most helpful to each of us. The programs work within any standard writing software program. A beginning typist or writer can have the program read each letter back as it is typed, or a high school student can have each sentence read as completed. Or the speech can be turned off. Different high quality voices can be chosen for each person’s preference. Word lists can be tailored for different levels of writing skill, or even topic lists so that unique words are recognized and suggested, such as words from a science or literature study. WordQ provides several complete word lists that can be used as a starting point, and then added to or changed for the individual. The digital manuals were very thorough and easy to follow making the programs accessible for students with little computer background.
Children with learning disabilities will likely find these programs an invaluable tool in improving their writing and comprehension skills. We even found the program helpful when using the natural sounding text-to-speech engine to read aloud passages from books we were reading online or proofing a completed report – very helpful while chasing toddlers! WordQ also provides usage examples for words that are commonly misused so students can double check when needed. Both programs learn as you work so the predictions become more accurate the more you use the program. For example, the program will notice that you use certain words frequently and suggest those words first when given the appropriate context, and will learn your speech to make more accurate predictions as you work. It even helps make sure punctuation is properly spaced!
It might be a shorter list to describe who would not benefit from these programs than who would! We found in our homeschool that the program was useful for everyone from our seven-year-old son with Down syndrome, to our 12-year-old gifted son, to my husband and myself. It would be particularly wonderful for students who are just learning to read and write or who have developmental delays or learning disabilities, but also for more advanced students who are fine-tuning their writing skills. Auditory learners can benefit from hearing their sentences read back to check for mistakes or having the word predictions read to them, and visual learners benefit from seeing different words to choose from that fit the context of their sentence.
There are many pros to using these programs. The programs work together seamlessly, are easy enough for even young children to use, provide many different options to provide just the right level of assistance, and make writing more enjoyable for students. My list of cons is short and none are serious. The speech recognition for SpeakQ takes some time to develop accurately, both for the computer to learn the student’s speech patterns, and for the student to learn how to speak in short phrases and wait for the system. I think it is worth the effort, though, because we found the program to work better and better every time we used it. Background noise can wreak havoc on SpeakQ which led to some very funny predictions involving a boat and pirate while we tried to practice the Preamble to the Constitution. But, eliminating background noise resulted in a high level of accuracy. A minor irritation was the program recognizing when I said “United States of America” but only capitalizing the word America, which is a minor glitch that was actually easy to solve. It might be helpful in future versions to include some grammar helps as the student works through the text, such as recommending the correct verb tense as the student writes, although this type of assistance is available in most word processing programs. We were able to use WordQ and SpeakQ with all of our writing applications, including Word, WordPad, our email program, and Word Perfect, although only Word and WordPad highlight each word as the program reads the text.
I think WordQ and SpeakQ would help children who struggle with writing regain their confidence and reach up to their full potential. Parents can help tailor the program to provide just the right amount of assistance for the student. No longer do students have to write “big” instead of “humongous” or “good” instead of “outstanding”, just because they don’t know how to spell or are intimidated by long words. If you want to help improve the writing skills of your children, or yourself, I highly recommend WordQ and SpeakQ!