Santa Cruz Tech Beat


New iPhone app designed to help children learn to read

By Jennifer McNulty
UC Santa Cruz

September 5, 2019 — Santa Cruz, CA

Dominic Massaro, a professor emeritus of psychology, has developed a new iPhone app designed to help children learn to read. The app, which also helps people learning English as a second language, allows users to experience spoken and written English in a natural, real-world context.

The app, “Understand My World,” immerses users in written words, which jump starts their comprehension, said Massaro.

“The app encourages pre-literate and partially literate children to discover written language and learn to read,” said Massaro, whose research focused on how people understand language.

As a cognitive psychologist, Massaro discovered parallels between understanding speech and reading. He developed a fuzzy logical model of perception that was capable of quantitatively describing how people perceive spoken language and how they read.

However, Massaro was puzzled by the different ways children learn these two modalities: Children learn spoken language from birth but typically don’t learn how to read until they go to school, or have direct instruction. The proven strategy for teaching reading involves phonics, in which children learn the sounds that letters make and how these sounds are blended together in order to access written words.

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