Teaching Flemish toddlers language through personalised learning

Teaching Flemish toddlers language through personalised learning

Key takeaways

Fonemi is an educational game by Hogeschool VIVES that strengthens phonemic awareness in Flemish toddlers based on their individual skill levels.

  • Client

    Hogeschool VIVES

  • Services

    Gamification Instructional design Interfaces for kids

  • Links

    View fonemi.be

About this project

Fonemi started off in 2019 as a practice-oriented scientific research project led by 4 Educational bachelor of Pre-primary Education lecturers at VIVES University of Applied Sciences.

They’re confronted with the challenge of finding functional apps that meet their learning objectives on a daily basis, even at home. The large-scale literacy issues in Flanders have been statistically proven, and in order to meet the demand that this creates for a high quality product, VIVES took on the challenge of developing their own app. 

In 2020, they received funding from the Smart Education @ Schools project by imec to develop a web app that assesses phonemic awareness. In collaboration with 4 primary schools and Bits of Love, they continue to lovingly and emphatically improve Fonemi. 

As some of the Bits of Love team members are also confronted with those same challenges of trying to find decent educational apps that children enjoy, this partnership just made sense. Stimulating and facilitating digital evolution in the education system is a passion of ours!

A difficult and widespread challenge

Research shows that functional illiteracy in Flanders only threatens to increase further as more and more children are having difficulty with reading in the first grade. Considering the importance of one’s reading ability and how it ultimately determines your place in society, Fonemi aims to buck this trend by strengthening phonemic awareness in children in their third year of preschool. The stronger their understanding of how sounds are formed, the smoother of an experience they’ll have in learning how to read and write in primary school.

The traditional whole-class teaching approach proves to pose a difficult challenge when dealing with phonemic awareness in particular. Therefore the logical next step would be to start implementing individually guided practice moments, which would preferably be tackled using computers or tablets. 

Though similar apps for this use case are available, the existing offers are: 

  • often of Dutch origin (and thus have the wrong voicings for Flemish toddlers),
  • of suboptimal quality (in terms of design, content, and technical operation),
  • severely limited in exercises that specifically target phonemic awareness (as it frequently plays a smaller role as part of a more general learn to read’ app).

After just a little bit of research, the importance of developing a dedicated app with Flemish voicings that is visually, pedagogically, and technologically optimised quickly became clear.

What were their expectations?

Fonemi had several defined goals. The app needed to:

  • be adaptable, as exercises need to cater to each individual child’s level,
  • clearly voice phonemes in Flemish (e.g. /​k/​instead of /​kaa/​or /​ke/​, /​t/​instead of /​tee/​, etc.),
  • gamify the obtainment and subsequent processing of the subject matter,
  • offer a comprehensive platform to teachers to follow up on individual pupils’ progressions.

How did we take on this challenge?

We assisted VIVES in defining the concept, producing necessary assets, and implementing their business plan. Our expertise in instructional design and developing interfaces for children & gamification in combination with the pedagogical background of VIVES’ lecturers made for an excellent cooperation. The Fonemi app truly is a joint effort.

VIVES was incredibly involved throughout this entire process. All assets, from illustration to audio, were produced by the team of lecturers. Additionally, they helped with filling in the database that feeds the app. 

What does the solution look like?

The Fonemi app offers 3 levels with different sets of exercises. Each level focuses on specific phonemic skillsets using pre-tests and, if necessary, follows up with additional exercises.

The toddlers end up in Fien’s world: Together with Fien, they practice all kinds of phonemic skills by filling in a shopping list or packing a suitcase, for example. The more the toddler practices and increases their phonemic awareness, the more animals they unlock as a reward.

We provided the app with a custom LMS (learning management system) which the teachers can use to keep track of and evaluate each toddler’s individual progression with ease. 

Everybody benefits

With Fonemi, Bits of Love aims to contribute meaningfully to the digitalisation of education and grant as many toddlers as possible the opportunity to a smooth start when learning how to read.

Teachers are assisted thanks to the way in which the app stimulates phonemic awareness at a level that is individually catered to each preschooler, something that is difficult to learn or practice in a classroom. The preschoolers are guided throughout their language learning journey and the app helps them on their way to a better and more informed start to reading! 

Though it’ll be difficult to point towards concrete data once the app does launch, there will undoubtedly be some wonderful stories to be told by VIVES or any of the schools involved.
The most important result is that children enjoy the app and will simultaneously be able to kickstart their journey in learning how to read. 

What does the future hold for Fonemi?

Back in June, we posted an article about us visiting a local preschool in order to observe how children experience the app. We wanted to see how they interact with it, what their impressions were, and if toddlers were capable of using the app independently or if they required more guidance. 

It turned out that keeping them focused for longer periods of time was a bit of a challenge because of their short attention span, which we took into account during development by adapting the flow and user interface to accommodate their needs better. It’s during these real-life testing environments that we detect where improvements need to be made!


As of September 2021, 50 Flemish primary schools have started using Fonemi and conducting pre-tests to gauge toddlers’ current skill levels. 

Come January 2022, the pupils’ phonemic awareness skills will be put to the test once again to see how far they’ve progressed. Once these post-tests have concluded, this data will be compiled into a report that aims to present the app’s added value to any and all of the 2.693 total primary schools that are currently active in Flanders. 

We’re incredibly excited to keep track of how Fonemi will continue to grow! 

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