The Fast ForWord Story

More info on Fast ForWord

Fast ForWord is not available as a standalone software. It requires expert oversight at home or in center. Look for answers to your questions on how our service works on our FAQ page.

Fast ForWord was founded when the work of four famous scientists intersected.  The scientists are Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. William Jenkins, Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Steven Miller.

The Changing Brain

Dr Michael MerzenichMichael Merzenich earned his PhD in neurophysiology at Johns Hopkins and went on to the U.C., San Francisco, where he investigated neuroplasticity. His research lead to the development of the cochlear implant.

Collaborative experiments by Merzenich and William Jenkins, PhD, who joined the UCSF lab in 1980, showed that the adult brain could change in response to stimuli, leading to confirmation that brains reinvent and reconfigure themselves throughout our lifetimes. This is brain plasticity. Another study showed that progressive training could actually accelerate the rate at which the brain changed.

Language Processing and Reading

Dr Paula TallalMeanwhile, Paula Tallal, at Cambridge University, was working on a theory that reading was a language skill and that difficulties in reading were related to auditory processing problems. She theorized that if auditory processing delays made it hard to distinguish between speech sounds, phonological awareness and hence reading would suffer.

Neuroplasticity & Reading Theories Converge

The scientists met at a multidisciplinary think tank in Sante Fe, where Merzenich and Tallal heard each other speak.  They recognized that if processing was the source of reading issues and processing was a brain function that could be rewired, something profound and powerful was possible.

That something was Fast ForWord. Jenkins and his team developed complex algorithms that could slow speech down and then interact with the user to speed processing back up at the user’s own pace.  They decided on a computer game format as a way to engage children.

Testing & Launch

A “summer school” study was set up at Rutgers University to evaluate the software. The first study in 1994 had only seven children, but the results were excellent. A second study with a larger sample group had even better results.

The results lead to a study published in the journal Science in the summer of 1995, which sparked publicity in the New York Times, CNN, Time Magazine and many other outlets. In early 1996, Merzenich, Tallal, Jenkins, and Miller formed Scientific Learning Corporation.

The company began offering Fast ForWord first to speech language professionals, later on to school districts and more recently licensing to firms like Gemm Learning which provide Fast ForWord at home with remote oversight.  Fast ForWord is now available in 40+ countries worldwide.

Fast ForWord Language helps children under ten years of age. Fast ForWord Literacy is the same program for adolescent students and adults. Scientific Learning also developed Fast ForWord reading programs, a series that develops reading skills from first grade through adult.