Both Camila and I are not native English speakers. I started learning English when I was 11 years old, but nowadays it is very common to see juniors learning English as their second language from as early as four years old. Today, I will highlight an excellent app to assist early learners with their speaking and listening skills, entitled Babble Planet
Babble Planet was created by a French startup team, Swasa. A part of Le Camping incubator, their mission is to help juniors learn to speak English the fun way. The app was designed for ESL juniors as young as six years old, or native English speakers as young as three years old.
Babble Planet uses gaming elements to keep your juniors excited as they practice speaking and listening skills. The app comprises several culture-themed levels, with each level encompassing six educational mini games. The levels also cover a wide variety of topics; for example, you can learn about numbers, colors, animals, family members, sports, and even body parts.
The idea behind the app is to allow your juniors to learn one step at a time while exploring the unique cultures of the world. At the time of this review, the app has three levels: India, Mexico, and Japan. The first level is available for free as part of the app purchase, whereas the other levels are available as in-app purchases.
An example activity that you can find in the app is helping out a fruit and vegetable seller as he weighs his goods. Your task is to call out the numbers shown on the scale. The app then recognizes your speech, and moves you to the next challenge if you say the numbers correctly. Your objective is to try and get as many correct numbers as possible within the allotted 90 seconds.
Another example is a listening mini game where you help a chef find the cooking ingredients that match his descriptions on the conveyor belts. The app cleverly increases the game's difficulty level by introducing new items as you progress. In total, there are 26 different ingredients that you can identify in the game.
The other four mini games in the first level include a game where you call out the color of cars, drag the correct clothing articles as instructed, call out the weather-related icons, and a unique memory matching game where you match the voiceove for an animal name with its animal illustration.
To learn more of the app in action, you should check out the following demo video from the developers:
Parents Need to Know
In Babble Planet, each mini game includes a video instruction for playing. If you fail consecutively when trying to find the items as instructed or when trying to pronounce words, the app is designed to provide helpful hints to get you back on track.
A convenient feature is the Babble Book, which is included in each game. The Book has three tabs containing your mistakes, words that you haven't encountered in the game, and words that you have encountered, respectively.
The third tab is special because it contains several sections to help you improve your pronunciation. The first section contains several icons. When you tap on an icon, a larger version of it appears in the second section along with its name. You can tap on the image to listen to their correct pronunciations.
In the speaking games, there is an additional section where you can practice your pronunciation as many times as you like. If you get it right, the app gives you a stamp to reward your effort.
Things I Like
Babble Planet is a very well designed app. It has beautiful graphics, animations, sound effects, and even ambient background music. The games are also well made to encourage juniors to learn while having fun.
One of my favorite activities in the app is the memory matching game in the first level. In this game, the app tasks you to match the voiceover for each animal name with its illustration. I think that this is a great activity to help juniors train and develop the audio visual sensory integration.
Finally, I would like to comment on is the app's speech recognition and text-to-speech engine. I tested the app and found that it was able to recognize my thick Indonesian accent, even when I was in a noisy environment. However, I did notice that it worked better with older kids, whose voice is not as high-pitched or as quiet as say, my three-year-old son.
I hope that as the engine continuously improves, the app would also get better. After all, the ultimate goal of the app is to make it as child-friendly as possible. This is what the developers envisioned when they invented the "Babble Planet" name:
"It represents the idea that, through our game, kids learn how to speak English, and will therefore chatter away in whatever they know in English. It also represents the playing community, Babble Planet, who come together and play against one another. Lastly, the word planet represents the idea of the exploration and discovery of different parts of the world through the game, because each level takes place in a different country."
Babble Planet is an excellent iPad app for your juniors to practice their English speaking and listening skills. The mini games are also unique and excellent on their own.
Even though the app is primarily designed to help ESL juniors ages six and up, I believe native speakers as young as three years old can also benefit from the app. It's a must-have for parents who want their juniors to learn English and the unique cultures of the world while having fun.