Spelling Out the Next Great App

Spelling-impaired people (with smartphones), take heart!

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A new app developed by two greeners will turn you into a spelling superstar.

Last spring, computer science major Clark Rinker answered the call of his Student Originated Software professor Richard Weiss to make an iPhone application of a phonetic dictionary written by alumna Diane Frank ’98. Frank originally created the reference book to help her dyslexic daughter Gabby overcome spelling challenges. It took more than a decade to compile the 500-page Gabby’s Wordspeller & Phonetic Dictionary, which allows users to quickly locate the correct spelling of a word by the way it sounds.

creators of the spelling app

The creators of the spelling app.

Frank reasoned that her resource could be even better if it was moved to a mobile platform. “I wanted it to be useful to more people and it had to be portable,” she says.

That’s where Rinker came in. Within a few weeks, he built a database of more than 175,000 words. It took another three weeks to write the code and convert the database into the app, called the American Phonetic Wordspeller & Dictionary, which iPhone and Android users can purchase online. Early next year, they will release a Spanish version of the app.

Frank continues to expand her hard-copy dictionary’s vocabulary; she anticipates that it will someday contain 400,000 words. And Rinker, who works as a resident assistant on campus, continues to update the app, spending five to ten hours a week on it. After he graduates next June, he intends to pursue a doctorate and someday teach computer science.

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Rinker’s involvement in the project taught him “that it’s important to express one’s interest in things going on outside of class. When I first found out about the project, I was hesitant to go to the meeting since I had never worked on developing for phones or really programs for end users at all. I think my curiosity in computer science ended up landing me a pretty great gig here, and yet the driving force hasn’t ever really been employment for me. My job as an RA covers my living situation, so I’m mostly in this for how cool the project has been.”

Surprisingly, neither Frank nor Rinker owns an iPhone. But once the hoped-for revenue starts coming in from the app, it’s one of the first items on both their to-get lists.