Some reviewers never read what's written about an app on other sites and others, like me, read every word. I do a lot of Googling before starting a review because I want to make sure I'm offering a fresh perspective. Also, if I have questions after using the app, I like to see if another user or even the developer has answered them. First Words International Home HD by Hamaguchi Apps for Speech, Language & Auditory Development left me with many questions and even after doing some digging, I had few answers.
What the app does and how it works are not in question. First Words uses step-by-step ABA (applied behavior analysis) style methodology to teach the names of 50 different objects or things in seven different languages. The app features a lot of bells and whistles to customize the learning experience for each user. The Home edition allows for saving of a single user profile at a time while the Pro edition allows storing up to 30 profiles. Settings include the following options:
Activities - Learn the Word (teaching) exposes kids to five different examples of the item as the name of it is repeated. Find the Word (receptive) asks kids to select the item from a field of five. The app uses full immersion as the instructions are in the language being taught, and they may vary from "show me the cat" to "which is the cat" or "touch the cat." Say the Word (expressive) gives the child a chance to practice saying the new word out loud and to record it. Parents can select one or more of these activities and can specify the order of activities, which means completing teaching for all 50 words first, doing all three activities for each word or letting the activities present randomly.
Languages - English (American, which means the child has to find a cookie not a biscuit), Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Hindi, Russian, and Japanese.
Words - Select targeted words by category like people, vehicles or food; individually or randomly work on them all.
Picture Styles - photos (often the best for kids with autism), color or random. Various sizes and shapes are represented for maximum generalization.
Animations - Choose which animations to show and determine how often they are shown. Animations are motivators to keep a child's interest and include things like dinosaur eggs hatching, ballerinas dancing to the Nutcracker music and monkeys climbing.
Sounds - Use different tones to signal correct responses or the need to make a selection.
Track Progress - Display scores on screen or not with additional options to email results, download as a PDF or play items missed again.
Text - Have the verbal instructions and object labels on screen or not.
That is an impressive list of features and options and a good indicator of why Hamaguchi Apps have earned the respect of teachers and speech therapists. First Words clearly can be customized to meet the needs of many different types of users. My question is exactly to whom is this app targeted?
The slow systematic pace of the app is well-suited to those with speech delays or very young children, the former of which aren't going to have much need for a foreign language app. Typical children interested in learning a few words in another language or those already exposed to a second language at home would find the pacing painfully slow. A basic flashcard app or ebook with narration in another language would be easier and more engaging for these kids, and those will cost far less.
I'm also not sure those are the languages I'd most want my children to learn. In my neck of the woods Portuguese (Brazilian tourists), Creole (large Haitian population), Arabic (proximity to a mosque) and the Queen's English (working with Deanne and Lisa) are more common than Russian and Hindi. And when did German go the way of Latin? I'm hesitant to ever recommend in-app purchases but this may be a case where individually buying apps with only those languages you want makes better sense than paying for content your children will never use.
Animations are another thing that piqued my interest. They have nothing to do with the the activities being played or the subject of the app in general. If the goal of the app is exposure to foreign languages and learning new words then the animations should relate in some way. Nursery rhymes in the chosen language would be fun as would familiar songs. Singing is a great way to learn language.
My final question is a technical one. I'm curious if the word choices include sounds unique to the languages taught. Russian has a tz (tzar) sound that is not found in English. I have no idea what sounds Hindi, Chinese and Japanese include but they likely have some rolling R's or gutturals that also aren't heard in English or the romance languages.
First Words International is well crafted to serve its stated purpose of teaching nouns in seven languages and today's kids need to know a second language. The app is a fun way to try out different languages before committing to one, but it may have trouble finding an audience.
If you would like to buy First Words International Home which is on sale for $.99 for a limited time ($5.99, $7.99 Pro iPad/iPhone) please support Smart Apps for kids by using the following links:
Jill Goodman can count to 10 in four different languages. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-reviewfee to complete this review in an expedited manner.