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The National Science Foundation-funded Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University is pleased to announce the release of a new interactive bilingual storybook app for the iPad that is designed to facilitate language acquisition and reading in all young children, especially deaf and hard of hearing children. The app introduces an original children’s story entitled The Baobab and offers an enticing bilingual language, learning, and reading experience while having fun. With a fascinating interplay between a real life person using American Sign Language (ASL) and eye-catching animations, the app showcases ASL storytelling at its best, with accompanying English story text for reading along, an interactive feature that brings children from printed English words to an ASL and spoken English glossary of 170 signs, as well as stunning watercolor illustrations.

The Baobab promotes the acquisition of both ASL and English by providing a product that reflects state-of-the-art innovation in bilingual language learning and research, especially involving the dual acquisition the ASL and English languages, and learning to read in English. The app can be used by deaf children and their parents and teachers, hearing children and adults interested in learning sign language, and all those who are fascinated by creative storytelling and reading.

“At its heart, The Baobab is a captivating story that children and parents can share and enjoy together,” said Melissa Malzkuhn, Digital Innovation and Media Strategies Manager for VL2, who led the development of this app and others to be released in the new year. “It was important for us to create a story that is imaginative, compelling, and educational. Our goal is for children to have fun while developing their language and reading skills in ASL and English.”

Masterfully created by an all-deaf team, The Baobab is the first in a series of three ASL-English storybook apps for the iPad. Presently, it is unique in the world in having been built upon findings of extensive research done on both hearing and deaf bilinguals. Research conducted by the VL2 Center team demonstrates that early visual language experience with ASL powerfully facilitates the acquisition of learning to read in English and offers other far-reaching advantages for a deaf child’s linguistic, communicative, cognitive, academic, literacy, and psychosocial development.

Early exposure to bilingualism provides tremendous higher cognitive, language, and reading advantages for young children and the advantages continue throughout their entire lifetime, said Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, Science Director and Co-Principal Investigator of VL2. Research has proven that these beneficial effects, known as the bilingual advantage in child development, holds true for children learning two spoken languages as well as deaf children learning both ASL and English.

This enthusiasm is shared by Dr. Thomas Allen, Co-Principal Investigator of VL2, who noted, An interactive, bilingual app, such as The Baobab, provides an opportunity for children to develop their language, reading, and literacy skills, and to move toward dual language fluency, while being happily engaged, and brings exciting advances to the design of educational apps for all young children.

The Baobab is available in the iTunes store for $6.99. Click here to purchase. Two other apps, The Little Airplane That Could and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, are currently in development.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) is a Science of Learning Center in the United States, funded by the National Science Foundation, and is based at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. VL2 is a collaborative effort with more than 15 labs nationwide, all interested in the visual learning process. We seek to understand more about how learning through visual processes, visual language, and visually based social experience contributes to the development of language, reading, and literacy, and in ways that provide fascinating cognitive and linguistic advantages to the young visual learner. We seek this knowledge for the benefit of all humans.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

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