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5/25/2006
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Big Blue Software Tutors For Literacy

IBM's new software uses speech-recognition technology to listen and provide tailored feedback.

People who are learning to read can now get a little extra help from IBM's interactive web-based Reading Companion.

The new software uses innovative speech-recognition technology to listen and provide tailored feedback. It incorporates an online reading tutor that analyzes each student's pronunciation and reading skills to help teachers assess performance and recommend improvements.

Users will be able to access the software free. They will receive an ID and password from their participating organization. Each organization will have 10 microphones, courtesy of Big Blue.

Reading material appears on screen with a mentor, or companion that invites the user to read phrases or sentences aloud. The companion gives positive reinforcement, an opportunity to try again or corrects the user.

During independent evaluations with children and adults, Reading Companion helped improve both reading and pronunciation, according to IBM.

According to the National Center for Family Literacy, there may be as many as 90 million adults in the United States with limited literacy skills. Many of them are parents. As part of a $2 million grant program, IBM has provided Reading Companion to 62 schools and nonprofit groups to increase literacy skills of students and adults.

"Literacy has been described as the next vital civil right, and the critical issue that impacts on a society's ability to innovate and advance," Stanley Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation and vice president of IBM Corporate Community Relations, said in a prepared statement. "Our goal is to provide this technology to anyone who needs learning help to read."

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