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New online learning tool is bridging the gap for bilingual students

storytime online
Posted at 6:28 PM, May 24, 2022

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — More than 40% of the world's children have restricted access to books due to affordability and availability. It's a real problem for child literacy, but a new tool could change that.

It's now being used at Nuestro Mundo Public Charter School in Providence, Rhode Island. It's a dual-language school devoted to multilingual and multicultural learning. Co-founders Katie Cardamone and Joe Maruszczak recognized a void in the American school system.

"What we're doing here should be done in all schools," Maruszczak said. "I think unfortunately where a lot of the typical world language instruction here in America falls short, by teaching kids vocabulary and how to conjugate verbs almost in a vacuum, and not really apply it."

Their model is not to teach languages but rather content through those languages.

"In teaching the content through the different languages, we also take time to compare the languages and create what is known as bi-literacy so that the students can use one language to leverage the other language and realize what an advantage they have to be able to look at things from two different perspectives," Cardamone said.

When they discovered Andreas Von Sachsen-Altenburg and his new business, Storytime Online, they knew they needed to implement it within their school.

"A first grader can use this, and they fly through it. They have no problem using it. Even two-year old's and three years old's can understand using this app," Von Sachsen-Altenburg said.

Through the app, students can read and listen to interactive children's books in 25 languages.

"For families, this is a way for them to stay connected to their heritage. For teachers, it's a way for them to support their students who are coming from different countries and help them assimilate," Von Sachsen-Altenburg said.

He got the idea through helping his 11-year-old sister Julia read in multiple languages virtually. She is in Germany while he is in the states.

"And my favorite languages are German, Georgian, English, and Spanish," Julia said.

For some languages, resources did not exist. For others, they were extremely expensive. Storytime Online is free for many users and just five dollars for others.

"It's designed to be affordable for people in developing regions as well as people with economic hardships who need that support for education for their children," Von Sachsen-Altenburg said.

He developed the software with Julia in mind, and now kids, even those younger than her, are greatly benefiting from it.

"You push a button, you listen to it, you repeat it, and then tada, you know it," Julia explains.

It's exactly the kind of resource those with Nuestro Mundo Public Charter School say were missing from bilingual education.

"When I started teaching in this country in Spanish, it was like you had to translate all of the resources. I would like whiteout things and write in the Spanish parts, so luckily, things like Storytime Online are coming out now," Cardamone said. "For so many students in public schools, speaking another language or having another home language is seen as a deficit."

It's a tool helping to remove stigmas and truly serve the multi-lingual population.

"Dual language is the most efficacious methodology to use with students who are English language learners. Plain and simple," Maruszczak said.