I had the pleasure of interviewing Ari Fertel, founder and CEO of Reading Buddy, Inc. early this week. She’s one busy lady, and I am very grateful to her for spending some of her precious time to speak with me.
Reading Buddy is a delightful program designed to advance your child’s (or grandchild’s) reading ability a full grade level in 90 days — or less, using lab-proven techniques to fully engage the child’s interest.
For more information, see http://h2ha.com/readingbuddy
Here is the recording of our conversation:
And here is the transcript:
Interview with Ari Fertel
Howard: This evening, or today, or whatever time it is when you’re watching, I’m talking with Ari Fertel and she is the founder and CEO of Reading Buddy. Reading Buddy is a rather remarkable program which I first learned about a couple of years ago and I looked at it and I was quite impressed with it and I’ve been recommending it to my friends.
I understand that you invented Reading Buddy because of your own personal problems with your son’s reading. Is that your oldest son?
Ari: Yeah, that’s correct, Howard.
Howard: Okay… and he was diagnosed with ADD and Dyslexia and you managed to make that all go away?
Ari: Well, I tried to help. That’s true. We did a lot of work on reading. And I spent a lot of time researching reading and learning about dyslexia and how children learn to read. And I spent a lot of time reading with him. I really devoted myself to reading to him so he heard language all the time and it got to a point where reading became quite easy for him.
Howard: And I recall reading that you said that he is no longer…
Ari: Right. So when he was in high school… He was diagnosed very early on when he was in the end of Kindergarten… beginning of first grade. And that he would have difficulty with reading and that he was dyslexic. And also dyslexia is something that runs in my family. I have siblings who were dyslexic. And so when he was in high school I had a whole another testing done for him and they told me he had no signs of dyslexia.
Howard: So he basically overcame it.
Ari: Absolutely. Our brain has an amazing ability. We know this with science that our brains have a plasticity to them. So really, anything is possible.
Howard: Now, dyslexia is a rather unusual problem and it’s not very well understood by a lot of people. Could you give a kind of a thumbnail sketch of what dyslexia is and how it affects you?
Ari: Right. So dyslexia is frequently misunderstood. Some people think that dyslexia is about reading words backwards or saying words backwards. But it’s really not the case. Dyslexia is really just a problem with breaking words down and understanding the sounds that each letter makes and being able to get the smallest root of the word and break those down. So with a lot of work there’s so many things out there — training now — Orton-Gillingham — and certain methods that can help kids really develop the skills that they need to if they have reading issues. Reading Buddy was designed for kids who do have dyslexia and also for kids who might not have dyslexia, but just need extra support… or their parents want them… I mean all kids benefit from extra reading, we all know that. So this is just a really super fun way for kids and parents to feel good about their kid’s reading.
Howard: So after this diagnosis, you basically tutored your son yourself and got him over the reading problem… When did you actually start working on Reading Buddy?
Ari: Reading Buddy has been many, many years in the making… probably a decade. It’s really… the best way for me to summarize Reading Buddy is I took all what we know scientifically about how children learn to read and all that I knew as a mother about what I wanted for my children. And I really put that all in a software program. I wanted it to be supportive. I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to make sure that my child got all the skills and all the practice that they needed but I wanted them to feel good about it. So there’s this very important motivational component, which is very unique, that our software has, that helps the child feel great about what they are doing and on the same hand, they’re really learning the skills that they need to improve their reading… which will impact their self-esteem… their grades… really everything that goes on in a young person’s life.
Howard: Yeah, I got one of the earlier versions of your Reading Buddy and I was quite impressed with the feedback that it gave. I noticed that it had a little trouble with my voice and you said that it works better with kids than it does with adults. Is that because the pitch is higher or what?
Ari: It could be. But you know as it’s cutting edge technology, so we are constantly… maybe the version that you have… if you had a newer update now… we are constantly fine tuning… as the technology improves, we are also moving along with that. So whenever there are improvements… so as you know if you have an iPhone with Siri, there are constant updates… we’re doing the same thing on the same way. When there are improvements with this new technology of speech recognition, we are implementing that in our software. So users can constantly feel that we are also growing and getting better with it. Of course it’s not perfect, you know. Parents aren’t perfect either, but it works. Bottom line is it works, right?
Howard: I notice that you went into a subscription model. In your notes, you said that the average child skips ahead about a grade level in just three months. So I’m guessing that a subscription model really makes a lot more sense on both ends. Lets you do maintenance easier… lets you do updates easier… and things like that.
Ari: Yes, absolutely. We found that parents felt much better about a subscription model. And if you’re really using it solidly… I mean 3 months. If you’re using it 5 times a week — which kids are motivated to do, they’ll really see a difference in their reading.
Howard: so how long does the typical customer actually use Reading Buddy?
Ari: So we’ve had wide variety of users. Some at least 3 months… and some will continue using it because their child is motivated and likes reading it. I had a parent recently call me and I was dealing with them and they were like – “my child doesn’t really need it but they just like the stories and it’s fun and they like the prizes so I’m just keeping it because I know that they are gonna continue reading.” So it really varies… but for sure, 3 months… at least, if you are seriously committed, you can really increase and improve your child’s reading.
Howard: I suppose you are also adding more stories as you go along.
Ari: Right. At this point, we have over 400 stories. We haven’t really had that need yet. But as we move along we’re really fine tuning and improving our speech recognition technology as the technology improves.
Howard: Now, has it all been smooth sailing? Or you had some difficulties in this?
Ari: That’s a great question. I think the difficulty has been really… I would like to be able to reach more children and get out there. And we are doing that. We’re reaching a lot of individual kids… we’re reaching schools. So that’s very exciting.
Howard: I hope I can help with that.
Ari: Yeah. For sure. Absolutely.
Howard: What are your future plans for Reading Buddy? It’s not really a stagnant program… it grows and expands as you go along, right?
Ari: For sure. So our real goal is that every child should have Reading Buddy software. If they have got a computer, a laptop or a desktop computer in their home, they should have Reading Buddy software. This is common as having… you know, a smart phone because we’re using that same great technology, but we are using it in a way that helps children feel good about themselves and improve their reading, which is key to educational success.
Howard: Let’s mention the advantages of Reading Buddy over having a private tutor.
Ari: Sure, because I’ve been down that road with a private tutor. So private tutors as we all know… they’re great but for a child to improve their reading, they really need consistent daily reading practice. And I don’t know about you, but that’s quite expensive… hiring a private tutor who at minimum, could cost $75-$100/hour and that’s everyday… you know, 5 days a week. That’s very expensive. And not only the expense… it’s getting your kid there to another place after school… carpool… and I don’t know. Sometimes you know, your child is just like – “I don’t want to go. This is enough.” But somehow, kids love… we all know kids love technology. So they’re more apt to like sit down at their own time, not somebody else’s scheduled time… at the comfort of their own home or their bedroom or their living room and turn on the Reading Buddy software and get everything that they need – it’s a tutor in a computer.
Howard: And spend as long as they want.
Ari: That’s right! Absolutely.
Howard: I was impressed with the immediate feedback and of course the computer never gets bored and the computer never gives up. It just keeps nagging at you until you get it right.
Ari: That’s true. So yeah, it’s really… when I read with my… I have a daughter now who just turned 8… but when I read with her, she’ll like read it once to me and she’ll say… I’ll say can you read it again… because in fluency, to help a child read they need to do repeated readings. When I correct her, she will be like, “don’t correct me, don’t correct me… I’m not reading anymore.” But when Reading Buddy software corrects her, she’s so happy “Oh! Look, no problem.” She rereads and practices and they can show her all the words that she has mispronounced or couldn’t read. And she’s more than happy to read them all to the software, to the Reading Buddy. But you know, to a parent, to a person… it’s more threatening.
Howard: I’ve run into things like that… I teach violin lessons and I’ve had professional violinists bring their children to me for lessons because the children don’t want to study with their parents.
Ari: Yes! Nobody, right? And you don’t want to keep on making mistakes and “stop nagging me… and I got that right… I don’t want to do it.” But this… you know… Reading Buddy came out of a personal need as a mother. And as I learned more about the reading process, I really felt like this could be an incredible service to families – financially, they’ll save money… emotionally, it improves your relationship with your child because they feel good about what they’re doing and most importantly, your child will really learn to read well.
Howard: Reading is a very important skill. One of the things that I noticed when I was going through it, it seemed like Reading Buddy would be a wonderful way of learning a foreign language. Have you ever thought about that?
Ari: We have thought about that. And we’ve had offers and people asking about that. So maybe at some point. But at this point, I’m really focused on helping readers learn to read in English and for sure, for people who speak English as a second language, this could also help them. We have a Spanish dictionary accessible for kids who speak Spanish. And they are really learning how to read English and speak English well. But for sure we had those offers and maybe there will be a plan down the line.
Howard: So do you have any other immediate plans for Reading Buddy?
Ari: To get the word out.
Howard: Just get the word out?
Ari: That’s right.
Howard: Well, any other projects besides Reading Buddy? Do you have something else going on or is that’s your main thing?
Ari: Everything has been very exciting and my heart is completely in it. So it really requires everything and all my time at this point.
Howard: Well, I certainly wish you a lot of luck with that and like I said, I hope I could help.
Ari: Wonderful, thank you.
Howard: Thank you very much for your time and so we’ll sign off at this point, thank you.
Ari: You’re welcome. Thank you.