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Gallaudet University and the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) are pleased to announce the release of a new bilingual storybook reading app for the iPad, The Blue Lobster.

The Blue Lobster storybook app is designed for the young child’s early entry into reading, ages three and up, and to facilitate both language acquisition and reading.

“This is the first early reader app that VL2 has released, and I know of no other bilingual interactive app for the young deaf child just beginning to read in the world,” said Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, co-principal investigator and science director of VL2.

The storybook offers an enticing bilingual language, learning, and reading experience by showcasing a real person using sign language, animation, and accompanying English text with an interactive feature that brings children from printed English words to an ASL and spoken English glossary of about 50 signs.

The Blue Lobster officially launched at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 28. We were asked to participate in the festival by the National Aquarium because a rare blue lobster named Toby on display there inspired our story,” said Melissa Malzkuhn, ’04 & ’08, VL2’s Digital Innovation Media Strategies Manager, and lead creator of the app.

“The app is designed to spark the child’s imagination, to experience new adventure, and to learn about the world,” said Malzkuhn. “Conceptually, the app focuses on color concepts, supported by beautiful illustrations, which all children are exploring at this development age. Linguistically, the app allows young children to gain strong support from simple words, and repetitive sentence structure, which help them to find a printed word in a stream of sentences, discern its meaning, and, ultimately, to discover the syntactic relations and meanings among the words. Additionally, there is a single theme focus (finding a blue lobster), rather than multiple themes and the sentences are simpler and less complex than our apps for older children, ages five and up.”

“Research has demonstrated that children who are bilingual have many cognitive and linguistic advantages over children who use one language and those advantages exist whether the child is using a signed or spoken language,” said Petitto. “We found that children exposed early in life to bilingual texts become stronger readers than monolingual readers. Moreover, language and literacy are intertwined and stories need to be engaging. The rich bilingual storytelling, vivid illustrations, and the storyline of The Blue Lobster will keep children entertained as they expand their reading skills.”

“Each reader has a different language background, motivation, and skills when it comes to reading,” said Dr. Melissa Herzig, VL2 Education, and Research Translation Manager. “A child’s background experiences with, for example, sea life, may also vary, but this is fine because it can spark rich discussion between parents or teachers and the child about this subject. Research shows that such shared reading and naming of objects between adults and children during book reading leads to children’s larger vocabularies and better literacy outcomes.”

The app was created by an all-deaf team in VL2’s Motion Light Lab, the majority of who are Gallaudet alumni. The Blue Lobster reunites the storyteller and designer who worked on VL2’s first storybook app, The Baobab, and it continues the main character’s adventures.

The Solar System, an educational storybook app for ages seven and up, is expected to be released in late October. Another app, The Little Airplane That Could, also in production, is designed for the early reader ages five and up. The first two VL2 storybook apps, The Baobab, and The Boy Who Cried Wolf were released in 2013 and 2014, respectively, for readers ages five and up.

The Blue Lobster is $2.99 and available in the Apple iTunes store. The Baobab and The Boy Who Cried Wolf are both $4.99. The VL2 team also is working on Android versions of the apps with The Baobab set to be released in October.

This material is based upon research 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, 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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