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This Woman is on a Mission to, You Know, Save the English Language

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It’s great when you get to see a friend take an idea from “there oughta be an app” to completion. Audrey Mann Cronin identified a problem. As the mother of a teenage girl and a teenage boy, she observed that her daughters were so accustomed to screens that they were out of practice with speaking.  With speech peppered with “ya know,” “like,” and “um,” Cronin felt young women were doing themselves a disservice, especially as they entered the college and job market.  She created LikeSo as a speech coach app designed to eliminate those unwanted language offenders.

LikeSo is an iOS app that you talk to. Using speech recognition software (Nuance), it flags life’s stupid little filler words.  There are two modes to get you talking: free speech or prompted speech, where you talk for a minute on any number of topics. The app counts the number of words you speak in a given time period, telling you whether you’re speaking too slowly or quickly. You can choose to just yak away or get a prompt to discuss popular culture, debate topics, interviews, famous people, and other topics.

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I was prompted to speak about gay marriage for 60 seconds. My speech won’t change the world, but it was noted that I was 100 percent free of filler words. The app couldn’t care less about what you say. It cares about how you say it. This isn’t great for building content fluidity or ideas, but that’s beside the point. The speech recognition is also sub-optimal in that it’s not context sensitive. It doesn’t know the difference between me saying “Kids are, like, fun to meet” and saying “Kids like to meet new friends.”

Still, it’s something, and there’s a lot of data to sift through to get some practical use out of this app. LikeSo counts how many times you used a filler word and how many words per minute you spoke, then packages that information into pie charts, frequencies, and an overall speech fitness score.

The app is not rocket science.  You can game the system by reading a page from a book. But that’s not the point. The point is that it gets you to refine your speech by working on the stumbling and bumbling. And whether you’re a girl or boy, 12 or 65, we don’t focus on our speech enough. LikeSo got me thinking that whether it’s boys who mumble or girls who “um,” there are speech idiosyncrasies, often attributed to lack of self-confidence, that can get in our way. LikeSo is available on the iTunes App Store now for 99 cents. I’d go for it if you, um, know what I mean.

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