Bottom Line: Creative design, multiple options, and functional vocabulary make this a very smart app for early language development.
If you would like to purchase First Phrases HD ($9.99 iPad/iPhone) or try the Lite version ($.99) please support Smart Apps for Kids by using the following links:
First Phrases HD is a speech-language therapy app developed by SLP Patti Hamaguchi of Hamaguchi Apps for speech, language & auditory development. It is designed to target early language development and can be used in a variety of ways in therapy or a school setting. It’s also one of my five year old daughter’s favorite apps to play just for fun.
The app has two different stages. The setting I use the most opens with a screen with words for the child to drag into place following a prompt like, “Tell the bear what to do.” The verb and object are named when tapped and then the character does as directed in an animation. So, the child puts "open the box" in the right order and the bear does just that.
In the second stage the user records the phrase and then the character completes the animation again, with the child’s voice directing the action. The recordings and student data can be saved in student profiles, up to 15 in the full version of the app.
The app is simple to use, with multiple settings available to customize. The user can choose the voice (girl, boy, or random), the level (easy, normal, and challenge), 2-part or 3-part verb phrases, the number of taps needed to play each animation, visual support for recording, and the character (cat, bear, and mouse). The record option can be turned off, as can the text with the pictures. There are also three more characters available with a $.99 in-app purchase.
In addition to these numerous options, there are 29 different action verbs targeted, including drink, eat, open, play, close, and pull. Other verbs include a preposition, such as jump on, take out, and turn off. These verbs help parents and therapists target a functional core vocabulary.
Most of the verbs are associated with several different objects, leading to multiple opportunities to practice and generalize. The noun vocabulary is familiar to young children, including car, ball, milk, juice, bed, paper, hat, music, and stroller.
The functional vocabulary is a key aspect missing in many apps for early language development, which tend to focus on nouns. While nouns are useful, a child who can label 100 objects can’t communicate well without verbs. If a child says “ball”, they might mean “play ball”, “throw ball”, or even just “I see the ball.”
I have used this app with positive results in a variety of therapy activities. Several students are successfully working on developing longer phrases. It is easy to modify what the student records based on their needs—one student might record “mouse jump” to target a 2-word phrase, while another records “jump on the rock,” and still another “The mouse jumps on the rock.”
Other students use it to work on descriptive vocabulary, adding at least one descriptive word before recording a phrase. I have also set specific verbs and characters to target articulation of specific sounds (using the “cat” or “kick” to target /k/, for example), and the add-on boy and girl can be used for pronoun development. My daughter likes to record using silly voices when playing by herself. When she plays with me, we target irregular past-tense verbs with ten of the verbs. With the sound turned down and text turned on, I’ve even used it to target early reading development.
I used Boardmaker, my laminator, velcro, and file folders to create picture representations of every verb, object, and character in the app. Some students benefit from the actual picture to build the phrase. The pictures also help generalize use of the skills targeted during therapy with the app to the classroom and beyond. It would also be easy to set up several phrases with actual objects, for those who need a very tangible representation of the phrase.
The app has a comprehensive FAQ section for those needing additional guidance. At the end of that section there is a link to the Hamaguchi Apps website in the info tab. There are also several outside links, but they are not easily accessed. In the settings tab, tapping the additional characters will allow an in-app purchase.
There is a Lite version of this app for just $.99. This gives access to 19 total animations (as opposed to 228 in the full version) with six verbs and one character. This option is a great way to try out the app before committing to the full price of $9.99.
In my opinion, the full version is a must-have for parents of children working on increasing expressive vocabulary, as well as the therapists and teachers who support their learning. First phrases is creative, utilizes the iPad’s features in effective ways, and is engaging for young children.
Heather Hetler wishes someone would tell her to “eat the chocolate.” She promises to share with her three kids and speech therapy students. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.