Short Word Maker 1.0
Release Date:December 16, 2009
Summary:A vocabulary-builder for young readers that, despite good intentions and a good set-up, falls slightly short of expectations.
Short Word Maker 1.0 has an interesting premise: Designed and programmed by one Kevin Neelands, it has the objective, in short, of expanding a new reader’s vocabulary. Meant to be used in tandem with a more experienced reader, the app displays three-letter words only, with definitions for each, for the user to learn and eventually memorize. I may have passed this one by had it just been a laundry list of three-letter words, but Short Word Maker redeems itself with its cleverly concocted interactivity.
The app is presented in the most basic of aesthetics. A teal blue background is beset with three, white tiles at the top, each with its own letter in black boldface that, when combined, form a word; a yellow square centered below, bearing a definition for the word presented above; and two tabs at the bottom indicating Next and Random. Prior to this screen, the developer includes a short blurb on how to use Short Word Maker, mentioning that aside from the Next and Random tabs, you may tap any one of the three letter tiles above to change that letter to another. This mechanism is what truly makes the app. The Random button, obviously, finds a random word and defines it for you – the three letter tiles jumble, a flurry of letters whizzing around the tiles’ borders, until three letters are chosen to form a word. The Next button works under purely alphabetical principles – if the word mud is showing, tapping the Next button will produce mug, then mum, then nab, and so on, covering only the basic and ordinary words children of a young age could become familiar with. Working alphabetically is great for burgeoning readers who want to go through a list of vocabulary words. but if children want to take more initiative in forming words, then they may tap any one of the letter tiles to change that letter into the next letter that could form a coherent word in tandem with the two, remaining letters. Touching the B in nab, for example, would change the B to G, resulting in nag. There is no nac, nad, nae, or naf in the English language – at least, not for the purposes of a young reader – so nag is presented as the next viable option for a static na- and a malleable ending letter of -b. I was actually curious what would happen if I tapped the middle letter A, in nag, because I couldn’t think of the next likely word that would pop up – or, at least, one recognizable to a degree by youngsters. As it turns out, I was right – the app presented me with an error message, saying No new word found, try a different letter or selecting Random. I suppose this limitation was a given, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. After all, a young reader’s mind is so vast, so exponential, that learning all different kinds of words is possible – if a child learns what arrhythmia means, who is to dispute that such a word is too advanced?
The word creation ability, though, is still a useful tool for kids expanding their vocabulary, and any imposed word limitations are minor and of little consequence. The one aspect of Short Word Maker that I found to be inexcusable, though, was the choice in definitions. The way some of them are worded is misleading, and some even, bear an unnecessary bias. Rat is defined as “similar to a large ugly mouse.” It’s true, a mouse bears some physiological resemblance to a rat, and for the purposes of a young reader, this may be enough preliminary introduction to what a rat is. The use of the definer “ugly,” though, bears no contextual significance; a rat may be seen as ugly to some people, but it is not universally ugly – nor is any animal. Ugly is a purely arbitrary concept that doesn’t belong in a definition for rat, and certainly doesn’t belong in a definition meant for kids, who may learn to view rats with such a slanted perspective. Some words are defined in really simple terms, such as sap, defined as “sticky stuff that comes from trees,” whereas others, like hah, are defined with more complex words: an interjection indicating surprise. Some words aren’t defined at all, but are given a context: for means “a homonym of four.” If the developer is going to use the word homonym – a grammar concept, let’s face it, hardly anyone in this country understands – then why not just use the word preposition, as well? Why not just define the word as “in regarding to” or something just as vague to a young reader. Or, here’s my favorite: lew, defined as “short for Lewis.” Wait, what? Why even put that word in, if you could consider it a word. I wasn’t under the impression that names were the same as words, and I hardly believe lew is actually short for Lewis. Stick with Bob and Rob, heck, even the random Gus inserted in there.
Short Word Maker does have its flaws, but it has good intentions. The quibbles I have with the app are easily overcome with proper editing and better definitions – with a few changes here and there I’m sure more mothers would consider Short Word Maker to be an appropriate word-learning tool for their kids. As of now, though, it remains a little biased, a little vague, to properly point kids in the right direction.
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