Bilingual Storytelling by BLoSSoM makes storytelling come alive for children. The brainchild of Bill Tan, an entrepreneur who understands the value of communication, theBi-Lingual Story Switching Method makes storytelling a unique experience for children. Bill creates innovative products that enable people to overcome communication barriers, attain new possibilities, and improve their quality of life. He’s won multiple awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and named a New York City Venture Fellow for his work.
The father of a five-year-old, Bill values storybook reading time with his daughter and he also hopes that his little girl will one day be fluent in Mandarin and Spanish. And so, Bill created an innovative software that is powered by research in childhood bilingual literacy. His hi-tech version of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” allows his daughter to blossom with newfound language skills. Hence, he suitably chose the name BLoSSoM for his creation.
With investments as small as $10, $49 or $300, bilingual story switching between Spanish and English on each page will soon come to market. On Wednesday, February 28, Bill launched the Kickstarter page for BLoSSoM.
With this e-book app, a new generation can easily pick up a global language thanks to donors who wish to see better bilingual children’s books than the ones that simply place two translations side-by-side. Backers can earn small rewards from a coloring book to a beautiful pop-up greeting card bearing a 1-year BLoSSoM subscription.
CEO and Founder Bill recently discussed his experiences creating BLoSSoM and his hopes for the brand’s future.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into technology and/or programming and how have you seen the field evolve over the past five years?
Bill Tan (BT): I got into social entrepreneurship because of a need that I had witnessed and experienced first-hand – the language gap and the detrimental effect it has on both the linguistically isolated communities and the professionals who serve them. I once did the math, and came to the conclusion that at least 120,000 school days are missed every year in the NYC public school system, because kids have to accompany their non-English speaking parents to a hospital visit, social services appointment, etc. It struck me, as both a societal need and a marketplace opportunity, that much better language access solutions are sorely needed. One trend that I have noticed in the past few years: the embrace of entrepreneurship and technology-based innovation as a solution for addressing the most intractable social issues. Beyond just social venture capital funds, foundations are now setting up technology incubators to attract industry talent to help them explore issues such as poverty alleviation. This cross-fertilization of business models, domain expertise and funding models is incredibly exciting.
MM: What kinds of programs and/or products have you invented prior to making BLoSSoM?
BT: I have created Canopy, a suite of language access products designed for healthcare. It includes Canopy Learn, which is the most widely used elearning platform for Medical Spanish and has been adopted in virtually all medical schools throughout the country. Organizations that have joined forces with us to disseminate this resource include the American College of Emergency Physicians, a professional organization of over 21,000 emergency medicine physicians, the American Pediatric Association, which counts 66,000 members, and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the leading advocacy group for the health of Hispanic communities and the professional development for Hispanic nurses.
I have also created a nurse-patient communication platform called Starling, which has been dubbed “patient call bell 2.0”. It was designed to empower nurses to achieve greater level of productivity, job satisfaction and patient quality of care. Accessible on a touchscreen tablet, Starling enables patients to communicate their needs directly from the bedside via intuitive icons and multilingual menus, and intelligently routes these requests to the most suitable member of the nurse team based on the request’s priority and providers’ workload, skillset, and location. The system additionally offers robust workflow analytics to help nurse managers optimize staff mix and resource allocation. Starling garnered significant attention in the health IT space and was subsequently acquired by a large medical equipment company, for integration into a line of smarter hospital beds.
MM: How did you settle on using the story of “Peter Rabbit” as a launch point?
BT: My team was putting together a list of classic children’s books we want to include in the BLoSSoM library and came across this beautifully illustrated French version of ‘Peter Rabbit’. We all just instantly fell in love with the drawings and thought that placing BLoSSoM’s blended bilingual text alongside these vintage illustrations would make a very unique visual combination, and a powerful juxtaposition of the classical and the contemporary. Also, I think there’s a little bit of Peter Rabbit in every one of us – adventurous, non-conformist, and often humbled by the lessons we have to learn from our mischiefs.
MM: Do you plan to expand the system to include other books and dialects?
BT: Absolutely. We have received so many suggestions for specific book titles as well as book genres, from children’s storybooks to content that’s geared towards adults and professional audiences. We are in discussions with several children’s publishers to license their books for the BLoSSoM library and upgrade them to become interactive bilingual ebooks. But these mass market catalogs usually don’t include a significant offering for audiences outside of the mainstream. So, we are also working with a number of community-based organizations and library groups that promote literacy and diversity in children’s literature, on a program that will enable these organizations to create new books using BLoSSoM’s Publisher capabilities, so that we can have more stories that are told in their communities’ voice and languages.
We envision the BLoSSoM library to feature all book genres across the full range of childhood age segments. One exception may be nursery rhymes. Because rhyming is inherently dependent on a particular language and is difficult to render well in a blended L1+L2 format, we think nursery rhymes are better preserved in their full 100% monolingual format. We are definitely open to fresh ideas and perspectives, perhaps your reads can share their thoughts.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the system?
BT: The great Mr. Fred Rogers was once asked how many kids’ lives he had influenced in the thirty years his show was on the air. He replied, I paraphrase: I don’t care how many, even if it’s just one; the most important thing is we are able to be one-to-one with each other at the moment. It’s a very profound way to look at impact and legacy.
For BLoSSoM, if we are able to spark one child’s imagination with the storybooks, if we are able to ignite one child’s interest in learning words in another language, if we are able to help one parent gain the confidence that he can help his child become bilingual, then we will have succeeded. And it’s important to always think in terms of what we can do for one child at a time and make that child’s experience with BLoSSoM the most enjoyable and enriching as it can be.
When it comes to naming a product that help a child learn languages, most parents would draw up a blank. We would like for BLoSSoM to become the first thing that comes to a parent’s mind, the best resource they can think of, for raising a bilingual child. Once we set that as our ultimate measure of success, then everything we do will organically align, from developing the best content to designing the best user experience.
MM: What is coming up next for you and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
BT: Looking ahead, 2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of Indigenous Languages. It’s estimated that up to half of the 7,000 languages currently spoken will become extinct by the end of this century. It will be an incredible loss to humanity, as language is intertwined with culture, traditions, and identity. We wonder if BLoSSoM can play a small part in preserving some of those tongues, by encouraging more authors to write children’s stories in those languages and making them accessible to the interested communities and individuals. We have started conversations with several Native American organizations about those possibilities, and the reception has been more than enthusiastic. If we can get BLoSSoM off the ground in 2018, we would live to explore an initiative help preserve languages that are indigenous, marginalized and/or endangered.
MM: What prompted you to launch BLoSSoM on Kickstarter?
BT: We see it as a way to engage our early adopters, and to reward them for taking a leap of faith in us. We also want to use it as a way to gauge interest in various language versions.
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To check out the BLoSSoM via their Kickstarter page.
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