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Timothy Urness creates iPad app for learning languages

Timothy Urness, associate professor of computer science, has produced an iPad application to help facilitate learning a foreign language. The app, Sound Reading, allows users to view or create “sound readings,” where words highlight as they are pronounced.

A sound reading is an audio recording of a person reading text. While the recording is played, key words are highlighted as they are being pronounced. The app allows users to create these recordings as well as download sound readings that others, such as instructors, have created.

“By listening and experiencing a sound reading, a person learning a foreign language is essentially reading the text with a guide. While the words are being pronounced, they are highlighted, so they can easily follow along,” says Urness. “The theory is that this experience allows a learner to advance their vocabulary by hearing how words are pronounced while also seeing the text—making the connection between the sound and the reading of the text will develop a deeper intuition of the nuances of the language.”

The app records text and audio, so there is no limit to the languages that can be learned. However, as of right now, the app does not have the capability to read right-to-left languages such as Arabic.

Urness joined the Drake faculty in 2006 and has been recognized as Outstanding Teacher of the Year in the College of Arts and Sciences. His research in computer graphics and scientific visualization is interdisciplinary in nature and has resulted in numerous publications. He is known for collaborating with students and his colleagues across campus.

The Sound Reading app was created in collaboration with Drake’s World Languages and Cultures Program, and Jan Marston, the retired director of the Virtual Language Studies Program. Ryan Dutoit and Bennet Hansen, graduates of the computer science program at Drake, also helped develop the app.

Visit iTunes to view the app.