| Oct 18, 2012
With the right software a computer can turn text into a spoken voice. Known as text-to-speech (or sometimes TTS), this tool is one of the most valuable uses of a computer for users with dyslexia or other reading difficulties as it helps them access the written word independently and develop reading skills. Text from web pages, documents, email or other files can be read aloud using text to speech technology.
What benefits can making your computer talk provide?
Reading web pages, e-books and electronic documents
Although the World Wide Web provides us all with a valuable and vast information resource, it can be daunting to those who find reading difficult. However, with a text-to-speech program many web pages can be read aloud, scan text documents, emails or even PDF files. This means that can you use your computer to read back text that you would otherwise struggle to comprehend and can also include pages of texts from books or worksheets that have been scanned in and turned into editable text documents using optical character recognition tools (OCR).
Multi-sensory teaching environment
Speech has always been an important aspect of software for teaching spelling, for example to reinforce ideas using both sight and hearing. Dyslexia experts often recommend using a multi-sensory approach to teaching. In other words, combining auditory and visual cues. Speech can add a new dimension to computer-based learning with speech output added to an on-screen representation of the word. Many of our software packages for developing spelling and reading skills use speech to enhance learning while AcceleRead AcceleWrite is a literacy teaching technique that has shown how text-to-speech can significantly improve reading and spelling.
Synthesised voices are wonderful for checking your written work. It’s much easier to hear the mistakes than see them. As well as spelling mistakes, speech output also helps spot the right word in the wrong place, missing or duplicate words. Some applications highlight text as it is read aloud making it easier to identify where errors have occurred.
How can you make a computer speak?
There are two ways: pre-recorded (digitised) and generated (synthesised) speech. Pre-recorded speech sounds the most natural but takes up a lot of disk space and can only read out what has already been recorded, it can’t read out something that you have just written.
Text-to-speech engines generate speech from text and are not limited by disk space. Both dyslexic and visually impaired people have found them to be a great leap forward in making text accessible. However, they use more robotic sounding voices and are not ideal for teaching pronunciation as they will sometimes get the pronunciation wrong; words like read (reed) and read (red) will usually cause problems. However, the latest high quality voices have been specifically developed to sound more natural and many programs now let you train the speech engine to pronounce individual words correctly.
If you want to try text to speech to see if it useful for you then we recommend downloading and installing BrowseAloud . This is developed by the same company as Texthelp Read & Write and reads aloud certified web sites including ours and popular sites such as www.google.com and www.bbc.co.uk (these links will open in a new window).
What text to speech software is available?
Text to speech software ranges from basic screen readers where you must copy and paste text into the reader, to advanced packages for users needing additional support; menus and icons can also be read aloud. Some packages also combine text-to-speech with OCR software to convert printed text into speech in one go. Specialist programs can include other features to help with reading, spelling and word finding problems. Below is a table showing the differences between some of the most popular packages. Click on the product name to link through to the product page where you can find out more about the programs. Further explanation of the features can be found at the foot of the table.
| Price for single user licence (ex VAT) || ||£71(Write:Outloud); £195(Read:Outloud) || £71(Write:Outloud); £195(Read:Outloud) || £140 - £320 || £119 - £159 |
| VAT relief available || || Yes || Yes || Yes || Yes |
| Operating system (full minimum specifications listed on the product pages) || || PC or Mac. || Standard version PC only.Gold version for PC or Mac. ||PC or Mac || PC or Mac version. |
| Does the program work with other applications or is it a free standing application? [i] || ||Free standing applications but works with other programs in the SOLO suite. || Works with numerous applications || Works with numerous applications ||Free standing. Also provides reading toolbar in Mozilla Firefox and Taskbar for accessing speech and proofing tools in word processing applications. |
| Does it highlight text as it is read aloud? [ii] || || Yes - all text in Write:Outloud and text files opened in Read:Outloud || Yes in MS Word & Internet Explorer || Yes in MS Word & Internet Explorer || Yes |
There are two types of text-to-speech programs: toolbars that work within other applications and talking word processors. Toolbar applications, such as Read & Write
, mean that the additional support tools are available in a variety of programs including Microsoft Office, emails and the web. Along with many other benefits this means that you don’t need to use a different program to your classmates or work colleagues, promoting inclusion and accessibility. Alternatively, a free standing word processor program may contain text-to-speech functions. These programs tend to be simpler to use, learn and set up making them more appropriate for the younger or less experienced computer user.
Synchronised highlighting of text as it is read aloud is important for dyslexic users with poor auditory processing as the visual tool reinforces the reading process. It is also very useful when proof reading for identifying where an error has been made.
Training speech recognition programs such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be difficult for poor readers as the training script has to read accurately. Some text-to-speech programs can be used to read aloud the scripts to help with the training process.
The quality of computer voices has improved immensely of the past few years. There are now some voices which sound very human-like. However these are not provided in all applications and you may have to pay extra for additional voices.
For more details on spell checkers have a look at our spell checker comparison article comparing the functions and spell checking ability of both handheld and software-based spell checkers.
By converting speech output into an audio file you can listen to text away from the computer on a digital music player or CD; great for revision or just reading away from the computer.