What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that SpeakaZoo records kids' voices and uses speech recognition technology to create "conversations" between kids and 18 animated animals. Kids pretend to be zoo keepers to these cute -- but troubled and often sarcastic -- animals. The animals explain their problems and ask kids questions, sometimes making emotional pleas for help. Kids then record their responses to the animals. The speech recognition technology enables the animated animals to answer the kids' recordings with relevant responses; at times it works very well, other responses don't make sense. Some of the animals use mature humor or talk about behavior (such as the vampire bat sucking blood) that kids may not understand. When parents sign up to allow their kids to use the app, they consent to allow the app to move their kid's audio recordings off the app to assist the speech recognition process.
What kids can learn
What Kids Can Learn
While SpeakaZoo was created with educational intent, it appears to have limited learning potential.
What's it about?
For kids to play SPEAKAZOO, parents must first enter an email address and then give permission to allow the app to record users. Then kids simply listen to each of the 18 animals' questions and requests, and press the microphone button when it lights up in order to record their answer. Conversations with each animal can continue for quite a while; when a kid wants to see another animal, they press Skip to move onto the next page. SpeakaZoo includes interesting voice recognition technology, but strange choices for conversation topics.
Is it any good?
While the 18 animals on SpeakaZoo are visually interesting and sometimes sweet, many have problems and use language that some young kids in the age group for which this app is intended may find too intense or sad. For example, the bat who feels misunderstood for drinking blood and says she's upset that the world "romanticizes and idealizes" her subculture but it's part of who she is ("You get that, right?," she says). The porcupine who can't get a hug asks kids if they could hug him. If the kid answers yes, the porcupine replies, "You're so nice and brave and kind of not that smart." Or the dolphin who asks for help with stage fright, yet after kids offer suggestions says, "Not helping, still terrified."
Some humor the animals use is not age-appropriate. For example, a ladybug criticizing another insect behind her back says she "fakes" her beauty and asks kids, "Do you know how many husbands she's been through?" In addition, the voice recognition technology isn't perfect, which may be confusing. For example, when a tiger asks if his roar is scary and a kid answers, "Yes," if the voice recognition doesn't pick up the answer properly, the tiger replies, "I didn't think so." For kids sensitive to strong emotions or confused by sarcasm, these animals may not be the right conversation companions.
Families can talk about...
Discuss the strong emotions some of these animals express. Why is the porcupine sad? Why is the dolphin anxious? Reassure young kids that even though the app says they're the "zoo keeper" and these animals are asking for their help they are not responsible for making them "feel better."
Explain the basics of voice recognition technology to your kid. Sometimes the answers that the animals give don't make sense, so it may help ease players' frustration to understand why.
As you play on the app with your kid, observe to see if your kid understands the humor (some of which may be too mature for young kids to grasp), and if not explain what the animal is trying to express in more kid-friendly language.