By Leigh Anne Jones, PCWorldFeb 24, 2011 8:15 am PST
Frustrated writers, particularly students from elementary school through college, will appreciate WordQ + SpeakQ ($279, 30-day free trial), a software duo for writers with learning disabilities or attention disorders. Once it is open, WordQ sits in the corner of the screen, waiting for you to start writing–in virtually any program you choose. With a microphone activated and the SpeakQ component installed, you can talk to it as well.
The WordQ + SpeakQ duo appears as a small toolbar that sits on top of your other open applications. The toolbar has five buttons: Options, Mic, Words, Speech, and Read. As you type, WordQ predicts, in a small box nearby, what words you’ll use next. A short list of suggested words will appear in the box; hover over one of the words to see a list of synonyms or a sentence that uses the word in its proper context. With a passage of text selected and the Read button toggled on, WordQ will read what you’ve already typed in a clear voice (several different languages and dialects are available). When you listen to the program read your words back to you, you’ll be more likely to catch any spelling and grammatical mistakes you’re making. Actually, WordQ will read almost any passage of text you select, whether you wrote it or not, including text from a web page.
Each new WordQ user chooses a vocabulary from a selection intended for different writing and age levels. Over time, WordQ adds new words that you use to the vocabulary. You can also create specialized topic lists of jargon or technical words to add to the vocabulary. It doesn’t define words, as a dictionary does; instead in many cases it provides a sentence for context (“He’s President of the United States” is an example) or offers synonyms. Some words, however, come with neither sentences for context nor synonyms.
Unlike Microsoft Word, WordQ won’t point out sentence fragments or use other technical terms. Instead, you are relying on your “ear,” which is what we all do most of the time, to help us distinguish between what sounds right and what doesn’t. As a writing lab tutor, this is what I ask students to do all the time. Sometimes I read what they’ve written out loud and ask them, “Does that sound right?” I also advise students to read things aloud for themselves, or better yet, get a friend to do it. It can be useful for a lot of people, at any writing level, especially if the text is read faithfully-which the computer is better at than many people.
SpeakQ adds speech recognition to WordQ’s predictive text and read-aloud capability., allowing students to say a word, then select the matching word from a list of suggestions, or, with a little practice, dictate in continuous speech. SpeakQ provides a speech recognition training module, which users are encouraged to practice with, but the company acknowledges that not every student will be willing or able to finish the training. In such cases, it’s okay to skip the training and just jump right in. It’s not perfect, but it’s easy to see how WordQ + SpeakQ could help struggling students become more successful writers.
A collection of brief, easy-to-follow instructional videos at the goqsoftware.com site make it easier to get up and running. A generous 30-day trial period of full program functionality offers enough time to decide if it’s a must-have. WordQ + SpeakQ costs $199 to register a single installation from an online download; $279 if you prefer a dual (home and school) installation from a DVD. WordQ by itself runs $149 for a single online download or $199 for the dual installation; there is no standalone SpeakQ download. Educators and therapists in the field may be eligible for a complimentary professional license.