Text to speech technology: What you should know

As big data, deep learning, machine learning, and AI made their way more and more into the forefront of technology, converting text to speech finally became possible. In the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of text-to-speech (TTS) tools available on Apple and Android devices and online.

Text-to-speech, also called “read aloud,” technology is software that verbally reads digital text. With the touch of a finger or click of a button, TTS takes words on a digital device and converts it into speech using a computer-generated voice. It works with almost all digital devices including smartphones, tablets and computers. It can read aloud all kinds of text files including online web pages and Microsoft Word. Reading speed can be adjusted and voice quality varies. Some voices sound human and others even sound like children speaking.

What are the advantages of TTS for kids?

Text to speech is particularly helpful for children who struggle with reading and also helps them with writing, editing and focusing. Some TTS tools highlight words as they are read aloud, helping children to see and hear the words at the same time. This improves the kids’ word recognition, increases their ability to pay attention, and allows them to focus on comprehension instead of focusing on sounding out words. Kids can then concentrate longer on their reading assignments and they can recognize and fix their errors in their writing assignments.

Other TTS tools have built-in character recognition that enables them to read text contained within images. So, a child can photograph a street sign and the tool will read the words on the sign. That way he/she learns how to read all those new words.

Children who struggle with reading tend to benefit a lot and TTS will not slow down the development of their reading skills. One study found improvements in motivation to read, comprehension, and fluency in students with dyslexia through the use of text-to- speech software.

How is TTS used by adults?

Text to speech technology is increasingly popular in the workplace where it is used as a tool to proofread written work. People also use it to read their e-books or for learning a new language which they can do on the go. People who have vision impairment tend to benefit the most from text-to-speech because they only need to press a few buttons and text can be read to them. With text-to-speech, people never miss their messages as they drive or work since the messages are read to them.

How to read an e-book with Google text to speech technology

Many computers, smartphones and digital tablets have built-in TTS tools which you and your child can use without purchasing special apps or software. Here we explain how you can use Google Text-to-speech on Android. First you have to enable Android text-to-speech capability from the Android Settings menu.

1. Go to Settings.

2. Then go to General management

3. Then go to Language and input

4. Tap on Text-to-speech option towards the bottom of the screen.

5. Click on Preferred engine. You will find Google Text-to-speech engine and another one from your device manufacturer. Choose Google Text-to-speech.

6. While still there, you can customize language and speech rate.

There are many e-books and reading apps that work well with Google Text-to-speech such as Google Play Books. On Google Play Books, turn the Google text reader on and your device will start reading to you with the right tone and inflections, properly following the punctuations.

Google TTS for language learning

Google Translate works with text-to-speech. You can write a phrase in your language, such as English, and the tool translates it to the desired language. Then it reads out the phrase and you can practise the right pronunciation of the words. This is handy when travelling to foreign countries where people speak a foreign language.

Other Text-to-speech tools

Beside the built-in text-to-speech tools on mobile digital devices, there are web-based tools which are useful especially when using a computer. Some websites have TTS tools which visitors can turn on and let them read aloud the contents of the website.

There are also free TTS tools available online that can be used to read anything online. For example, Chrome has several TTS tools such as Snap&Read Universal which can be used on any computer using the Chrome browser, and Read&Write for Google Chrome.

People who use Microsoft Word and OneNote can use Microsoft’s Immersive Reader tool which has TTS within it.

Text-to-speech apps are also available for kids to download on their smartphones and digital tablets. Some of them will highlight text in different colors while others have optical recognition.

Life is easy with Text-to-speech technology

The long-awaited text-to-speech technology, which is mostly free, is making lives easier for adults and children alike. Everyone should take advantage of it.

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