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The Fast ForWord Science Story

Fast ForWord science is the culmination of the work of four famous scientists  – all tackling the same problem from different angles.  The scientists are Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. William Jenkins, Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Steven Miller.

The Changing Brain

Dr Michael Merzenich and Fast ForWord scienceMichael 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, at the heart of Fast ForWord science.

Another study showed that progressive training could actually accelerate the rate at which the brain changed.  This is where neuroscience principles of scaffolding (creating a pathway to higher brain function), frequency and intensity were incorporated into the exercises. These are the principles that are needed to make lasting gains.

Dr. Merzenich received the prestigious Kavli Prize in Neuroscience in 2016.

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. This is called cognitive research. 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 of Fast ForWord science 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/ Foundations I 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.

Fast ForWord Requires oversight

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.

Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord software at home to build essential language processing and pre-reading skills, and then reading comprehension.