Did you know that AssistiveWare is based in The Netherlands? Languages are very close to us, we use English every day at the office but we, the employees, come from different places and speak several languages each. So, logically, it was a very long time ago when we decided that someday Proloquo2Go will “speak” other languages too.
Based on user feedback and the big presence of Proloquo2Go in America, the first language other than English to be supported had to be Spanish. We already had a vocabulary organization that works, our grammar system was going to get Spanish support very soon and we had access to native speakers and bilingual SLP’s. How hard could it be?
It turns out it’s very, very hard. From the very beginning of Proloquo2Go we’ve put a massive effort in making it very easy and quick to customize and to make the vocabulary grow with the user’s needs. During the years we added better and more comprehensive pre-made vocabularies reducing considerably the amount of time professionals and parents had to spend customizing grids, our VocaPriority™ and adjustable grids made growing the vocabulary easier, avoiding complete re-programming when changing the grid size to make space for more complex vocabulary.
But, when the time came to make a technical assessment of what it would take to make Proloquo2Go a truly multilingual AAC system, all those features and optimizations worked hard against us. The “technical underbelly” of Proloquo2Go had to go through an extremely complex and time consuming transformation, most of our systems and interfaces had to be redesigned to allow for multiple languages, same goes for the way we store the user vocabularies, how we copy and paste buttons, how templates are applied… we were in for a hell of a ride that would last more than one and a half years. Finally, at this point in time, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
To release Spanish Proloquo2Go in a reasonable amount of time we could have chosen to just make a couple of grid sizes available for Spanish, or not to offer advanced grammar support, or to rely heavily on English to Spanish translations for the different grid sizes, or to not support bilingual speakers at all. But that’s not what Spanish speakers deserve, and that’s not what’s expected from us. If we were to support Spanish, it had to be at the same level as English, no matter the difficulty.
Spanish speakers should expect from Proloquo2Go 4 the same experience that English speakers will have. Authentic children voices, full grammar support, VocaPriority™ and adjustable grids, templates, vocabulary levels… and of course, pre-made core word vocabularies.
The core word idea is universal and can be applied to almost any language, that includes Spanish. But, obviously, Spanish and English are different languages, with different grammar and spoken by people with different cultural backgrounds, so it makes sense that the core word vocabularies are not a “one-size-fits-all” affair. We conducted our own small core word research for Spanish, analyzing spoken Spanish conversations from children aged 3 to 12 as well as from adults, and while a good number of Core Words are shared between languages (“no”, “go”, look”, “want”, “it”), there are some important differences in other areas like pronouns and prepositions.
Our Spanish vocabularies are core word vocabularies. They are based on the same principles and designed to achieve the same goals as the English vocabularies. While we kept the same groups and general location of words in both languages where possible, there are differences to make sure that Spanish speakers are getting access to the words they need.
Proloquo2Go 4 introduces pop-ups and enhanced grammatical inflections that will help greatly in getting access to complex but necessary grammar and language structures, and that’s where the biggest difference between Spanish and English became clear.
For some unfathomable reason, we Spanish speakers decided that it was a good idea that every object and its qualities must have a gender, that makes “chair” (“silla”) a ‘she’ and “sofa” (“sofá”) a ‘he’ and any of the articles, pronouns, adjectives that go with the noun must reflect the same number and gender. Also, we have our own verb tense to give orders or ask for things, and funky enclitics that attach to the end of a verb to modify the person or object that receives the action. It would be too long to explain all the ways in which Spanish grammar is different from English, but believe me, there are a ton of differences.
Each step and problem solved in English had to be re-thought and solved for Spanish again following the same guidelines of enabling language development and giving quick access to what’s needed most while still providing access to all language in a coherent way. One of the most visual examples of these differences is the verb inflections.
Note: vocabularies in image are not final
Note: vocabularies in image are not final
But having access to the whole Spanish language is not enough, you also need a “voice” that can speak Spanish to get your message into the world.
When Proloquo2Go is made available in Spanish, we will also include high quality Spanish voices, including Spanish children voices too! The initial offering for Spanish voices will be:
Valeria, Emilio and Rodrigo are English/Spanish multi lingual voices.
I spend my day speaking English at the office, but when I get home I speak Spanish. Many people are in the same situation, and that includes AAC users too! Bilingual AAC use is a complicated issue, and we can’t claim that we support every aspect of it completely just yet, but we are including a lot of functionality that will make the life of bilingual AAC users, and the people customizing the vocabulary, easier.
With almost instant switching between English and Spanish at any time, the ability to have folders of the same vocabulary in different languages, buttons created in one language can be carried automatically to the other, voices that can speak in both English and Spanish so you don’t change your voice when you change your language… we think that the level of attention that we are giving to bilingual speakers in Proloquo2Go 4 is unprecedented, and we are committed to continue improving it in future releases based on user feedback.
Spanish is the second most international language. But people in different places speak different Spanish variants or dialects. While trying to make the perfect vocabulary for every dialect or variant is not within our reach, we made an effort to cater to most Spanish speakers.
In the same way, Proloquo2Go 4 will offer American, British and Australian vocabularies for English, we are going to offer vocabularies for two Spanish variants: Castilian Spanish and American Spanish.
Castilian Spanish is intended to serve people in Spain and other countries were the spoken Spanish is very similar to the Spanish spoken in Spain (aka Castilian), with things like informal addressing by default and its own labels for nouns and verbs.
American Spanish is designed to be used by Spanish speakers living in the US and nearby countries, this vocabulary is going to use the formal addressing by default and different labels for nouns and verbs. The Spanish diversity in America is very big, and you may need to make a few adjustments to the vocabulary to make it work for you, but thanks to our grammar system you just need to change the verbs in infinitive or the root form of the nouns and adjectives and you will get all the inflections automatically (no “voseo” support yet, sorry).
Also, these are Core Word vocabularies, and it turns out that the Core Words between the different Spanish variants are very similar, so you are not going to need to spend countless hours editing vocabularies so your son, daughter or client doesn’t sound like a “gallego” or a “gringo”.
Soon, seriously. After much effort, our technology foundation is solid and at the time of this writing we are making good progress in laying down our Spanish vocabularies, the inflections for verbs, nouns, pronouns, articles and adjectives are working and close to be final and we are making adjustments in the labels for several thousands of symbols in both Spanish variants.
This is our first attempt at building Spanish vocabularies, and it’s a very ambitious one. We made such enormous efforts to get where we are right now that we don’t want to make any big mistakes and spoil all the hard work, so we are taking the cautious approach.
In April 2015, by the time Proloquo2Go 4.0 ships in English, we are going to make a beta version of Proloquo2Go available in Spanish to professionals and the extremely patient people that have been poking us about Proloquo2Go in Spanish for the last 2 years, we need feedback from the Spanish SLP and AAC communities to make sure that our vocabularies are solid. It will take approximately six weeks for our beta testers to be able to use Proloquo2Go in Spanish and generate the feedback that we need, after that we will take another one to two months to tweak and polish our vocabularies based on the user feedback and release Proloquo2Go 4.1, finally with full English and Spanish support.
If you are a fully bilingual or Spanish SLP with good experience in AAC and Core Word, and you want to help us make the best possible Spanish AAC solution with your feedback, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Proloquo2Go in Spanish is a very exciting project for AssistiveWare as a company, and for me personally, we poured the best of us in it, and hopefully all Spanish speakers in need of a high-tech, high quality AAC solution will appreciate it and understand why it took us so damn long. ¡Hasta pronto!
Jose A. Pérez, Product Designer and Professional Spaniard