Google Play Books Adds New Audio Tools to Teach Kids to Read
Google Play Books has added new features to entice younger children to use it to read. The app now comes with a sort of audio reading tutor that can read books aloud, automatic or manual page-turning, and access a dictionary for children that will pronounce and define any words a child has trouble understanding.
The new features are aimed at children who are about eight or younger. They can activate the read and listen feature with a button at the bottom of the screen to hear the book read to them, with the choice of turning the page themselves or letting the app do it whenever it gets to the end of the current page. If the child is reading the book on the app by themselves or is confused by a particular word, they can tap on it to pull up a kid-friendly dictionary that will pronounce the word and explain what it means. Many of the definitions also come with illustrations to better convey the definition. Books that include the new tools are marked with a badge in the Play Store, and free samples can be downloaded to confirm that the features are there. Google has made a few of those books free to download to celebrate National Read Across America Day, including two Sesame Street books and a book about STEM for kids written by a Google employee.
“Until recently, the Google Play Books user experience was primarily designed for proficient readers,” Google Play Books product manager Vitaliy Dikker explained in a blog post. “With the launches of Teacher Approved Apps and Google Kids Space in 2020, we had an opportunity to rethink what learning to read means for younger readers, their parents and anyone else who may be a beginning reader.”
Google AI Education
Google has been experimenting with new features and options for its educational AI for a long time, and those efforts have accelerated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, last May, the company launched a new Android app called Read Along that came with a kid-focused voice assistant named Diya. Read Along, a global expansion of a tool named Bolo Google was testing in India, takes turns reading stories with a child. Then in October, Google folded reading tutor app Rivet into Google Assistant. As mentioned in the announcement, the new reading tools also come after Google toughened the rules to add Google Assistant Actions for Families, limiting it to those developers with apps marked Teacher Approved. These new features add to Google’s abilities as a tutor without turning to third-party AI services at all.