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Storytelling app bridges language gap

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A new iPad app called ScribJab, developed by two researchers at SFU, will allow children to write and share stories in multiple languages.

With a grant from Heritage Canada and technical assistance from SFU Creative Services, education professors Kelleen Toohey and Diane Dagenais have created an interactive multilingual story-telling app and website to encourage language learning and to build writing skills. Both formats are free for users.

“The point of this was to encourage children to write stories and to enjoy them,” Toohey explained.

ScribJab was officially launched at SFU on Jan. 14, when the developers and child authors celebrated the 30 books published to date.

To publish a story, children must first log on with a teacher or parent, then write a story in English or French, draw pictures, or record audio. From there, the story can be translated into another language.

Although ScribJab was originally designed for ages 10-13, younger children, older students, and adults can also use it. “Some teachers have been using ScribJab with teenagers who are learning French,” Dagenais said.

“There are a lot of multilingual and bilingual resources for teachers,” said Dagenais. “But there was nothing that we could see that was for kids to use.”

This research celebrates the fact that children may speak languages other than English and French at home, and allows them to connect with family members by writing stories and translating them into their mother tongue.

The idea first developed during a classroom project Toohey was involved with several years ago. The teacher she worked with noticed that the grandparents of Punjabi children were not attending reading time because they didn’t speak English.

“The kids and the teacher decided they would interview grandparents and get stories, and write them and translate them, so that they could go in the kindergarten and read the stories to little kids,” Toohey described. “They were so beautiful — the stories that the kids wrote — I felt like it was really important we found a wider distribution for them.”

Toohey and Dagenais would also like to see Aboriginal children using the app and writing stories in Aboriginal languages.

Although the researchers have yet to review the statistics on app downloads to date, they hope it will soon gain an international following. This will give children and older users the opportunity to share their stories with people all over the world.

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