Reviewed: Listen and Read Along Videos (LARA)
What is LARA?
Listen and Read Along (LARA) proves to be an outstanding tool for teaching reading. LARA is a collection of YouTube videos consisting of text on a screen, with words highlighted as a reader says them. As a reading tutor, specializing in dyslexia, I find older students happy to read things with substance. They don’t want to read “baby books.” LARA currently includes over 1600 videos. These are nicely organized under Songs, Classic Books, US History, Learn English, Attending College, Voice of America News, Biography, Science, and Places. More videos are being added daily, especially in the VOA news category.
Is LARA a Dyslexia Site?
The Listen and Read Along Facebook page states that LARA is a Non-Profit, “helping the world learn English through sight and sound. Words are highlighted as you hear them, so it’s easy to follow the text as you listen.” So, it wasn’t built to be a dyslexia site. But even though developed around English language learners, the LARA videos perfectly meet the need of dyslexic readers to practice tracking on their way to fast silent reading.
What makes Listen and Read Along (LARA) different than Text-to-Speech?
Text-to-Speech technology, now embedded in pretty much all things Google, changes the way we approach text. As a reading tutor, I LOVE it and teach my students to make use of it. They use it, but many don’t care for a computer generated voice, as it fails to convey nuances of meaning. Thankfully, Listen and Read Along videos feature excellent readers.
What makes LARA different than an audio book?
Audio books, paired with the same text on paper, provide an important tool for dyslexic students. I recommend it highly in my book, Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors and Parents: What to do when phonics isn’t enough. However, finding both the audio book and the paper book, in the same edition, presents a challenge. For some students, the cost of audio books poses a problem. Moreover, dyslexic students tend to lose their place in the book and need to stop repeatedly at first to figure out where the reader is. LARA provides the perfect format for learning how to track (read along) with a reader. Since the words are highlighted as they are read, that frustration disappears. And LARA costs readers nothing, assuming they already have a phone or a computer.
Which LARA features are important for dyslexic students?
Clear, concise pronunciation by a nice variety of real people tops the list of features. Next, my students like the obvious buttons at the bottom of each video, allowing listeners to “go faster” or “go slower.” A lot of material prepared for dyslexic students plods along at a painfully slow rate designed to drive them crazy. Also, highlighting the word while it is spoken makes this a powerful tool for building vocabulary in context.
How can LARA be used by students?
The LARA YouTube videos play beautifully on computer, tablet, or phone. I find that most of my students prefer things they can get on their phone. Best of all, LARA provides a pain-free way to improve reading skills. The phone never forces you to read aloud or sighs in exasperation because you still don’t know that word! Phones never snicker at you from the back of the class when you mispronounce something. A phone just lets you read along effortlessly, picking up advanced vocabulary, in meaningful context.
Listen and Read Along — highly recommended!
Definitely let your dyslexic and ESL students know about Listen and Read Along (LARA) videos. David Keltner, the driving force behind this wonderful tool, deserves a big thank you from all of us. So use and share the videos, as well as the LARA Facebook page.