AMAZON’S virtual assistant Alexa can help young children to read and spell thanks to a product developed by a Bournemouth company.

The idea was developed by digital agency Rarely Impossible, whose other innovations include software which can assess the tone of email correspondence.

The idea of using Alexa – found on Amazon’s Echo speakers and other devices – as a teaching aid came from the company’s customer engagement director Claire Crombie.

She found her five-year-old daughter Lola often asked Alexa for spellings, but the virtual assistant would respond with the names of each letter rather than the sounds which make up each word. Most schools use phonics, an approach that involves breaking down a word into sounds.

“It was like Alexa didn’t know how to spell the words,” said Ms Crombie. “To her, Alexa is a person.”

The developers created a “skill” – Alexa’s equivalent of an app – called Alien Words.

The premise is that space explorer Commander Alexa Jones and her crew are collecting words to send back to children on Earth. Children come across new words and have to identify whether they are alien or real. The concept of ‘alien’ or ‘nonsense’ words is a part of the phonics teaching process.

Ms Crombie added: “Teachers have a hard job trying to keep up with technology. Sometimes it’s really daunting for us as parents. Hopefully, this skill will be used by teachers and parents.”

She said the software was free to use. “In the long run, it could be that something commercial comes out of it but with this particular one that’s not the intention. It’s just putting it all out there to help other children and parents,” she added.

Developers had to submit their skill for review before it could be included in Amazon’s store.

Users earn a badge by building up a “learning streak” for 30 consecutive days, with an update every three days to tell them how they are doing.

Alien Words is part of a plan by Rarely Impossible to release a new product, concept or initiative every week.

Other inventions include Should I Send It, an extension for Google’s Chrome browser which can examine emails and analyse their tone. It reports on whether an email comes across as “good to send”, “neutral” or “negative”, giving the writer a chance to review before clicking “send”.

Rarely Impossible says the extension does not read any web pages in the background or store any data.