No stranger to rolling out services in extended beta and temporary projects, Google today unveiled its latest “experiment” for Chrome: Spell Up, a browser-based game that uses voice recognition and speech synthesis to help people learn to spell English better.
Users can start at any level they want and the point is to build “towers” of words (hence the “Up” of “Spell Up”). The browser speaks words to the user, and he or she must spell it back to the voice. There are variations around this, such as word guessing games, unscrambling words, filling in missing letter blanks and pronouncing things correctly (and from where I played the game, “correctly” seemed to be the Queen’s English).
Users are given clues by way of definitions, and you build up credits by spelling things correctly, which you can then use to help yourself when you are at a loss.
The project, the brainchild of Xavier Barrade in Google’s Creative Lab in London, makes use of some of the more recent developments in Chrome around speech.
Last year, Google added support for the Web Speech API to Chrome, and this year it built on that with the addition of speech synthesis. Together, these two let developers create apps where users can speak to input data, and the app itself can use an ever-changing base of data to craft spoken replies — both of which are put to use in Spell Up.
In other words, this is as much an interesting project in how to use nifty Google tools for education (and games!) as it is a way to show off innovations in browser technology and just how far it has come compared to, say, native app environments. It’s also an interesting idea in terms of who it targets: younger people, and possibly more international users.
Spell Up, as described by Barrade, has been created in partnership with game designers and teachers — who, together with developers, have formed a kind of informal triumvirate in educational apps these days. It’s designed, it seems, primarily for Chrome on your desktop and Android devices. If you use it on an iPhone or iPad the voice part disappears and you need to type your answers.
For now the app looks limited to English, but it will be cool to see if and when it expands to other languages — so often a shortfall in most traditional English-language educational systems.
Playing around (on a Mac laptop) I found the app quite fun, if a bit slow to recognise and post the letters I was speaking out, and more than once it seemed to completely mistake one letter for another. But I have a feeling my kids will love this one — a legit excuse to go online, one that I don’t mind them using.