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language explorer

Call for child participants to help with language technology project

Published on: 26 June 2020

First-of-its-kind app could help NHS with fast, cost-effective diagnosis and treatment planning

Language Explorer

Parents of children aged between four and eight are being urged to use the extra family time the pandemic has presented to participate in a groundbreaking national research project to ‘Tell one story now, help thousands of children tomorrow’.

The Citizen Science project Language Explorer uses a first-of-its-kind machine learning based app to detect and assess developmental language disorders (DLD) - something which affects two children in every classroom. 

Participation in Language Explorer can be done at home, and involves a child re-telling a story read to them in the app, the recording of which is uploaded for analysis using technology which measures the level of language used by the child. The data collected in this project will be invaluable in training the app to recognise children with language difficulties and create significant efficiencies within the NHS such as shorter waiting times to see specialists, faster diagnosis and treatment route, and increased accuracy in planning interventions.

Time efficient and informative

The app was created by project leader and award-winning healthcare technology solutions developer Therapy Box, and the project is a collaboration with Newcastle University, Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit,  and three NHS sites in Hackney, Newcastle and Bristol. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme. Language Explorer has also won awards including the Scale & Grow at the Virgin Media Business VOOM Awards, and a Digital Public Health Award.

Some 600 children are required for the Language Explorer project, and around 200 have already taken part. The project partners hope that the advertising campaign - provided by JC Decaux after the project won the prize at the Virgin Media Business VOOM Awards - coupled with the fact parents are spending extra time with children because of school attendance restrictions, will boost participation.The app is free to download on iOS or Android devices.

Professor Cristina McKean, of the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, concluded: “Identifying children with language disorders and designing tailored interventions to meet individual needs is a highly specialised and time-consuming process. Together with the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust, I am excited to be part of the team harnessing the potential of technologies to make access to these specialist assessments more time-efficient and informative.  Our hope is that more children with language disorders can access the support they need to overcome their difficulties and thrive.”



Assessing children’s language is labour intensive and can take up to 30 minutes to listen and record a child speaking and then as much as 90 minutes to transcribe and analyse the sample. Lack of resource means children are either not assessed fully or not every child is assessed, which can deprive them of the right type and intensity of speech and language therapy.

Rebecca Bright MBE, speech and language therapist and founder of Therapy Box, explained: “The Language Explorer app has been designed with children to ensure it is engaging, and to make sure the language used is suitable for its audience. Parents can simply download it, create a profile, and then their child can listen to the story. The child will then be asked to retell the story in their own words, complete a quiz and play a repeating game. Once all three challenges are completed, there is the option to listen back to the story and play a game to steer a ship to collect as many treasure coins as possible – so there is a reward for children participating in the form of a fun game.

“The app will be put through its paces over the course of the second year of research by speech and language therapists and families accessing in-clinic or video assessment. The evolution of Language Explorer is an important step in developing artificial Intelligence to help the NHS achieve crucial efficiencies,” she added.


Press release adapted courtesy of Therapy Box


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