Updated Nov 2015
Text-to-speech software converts text into speech, reading written information aloud. I dream of a time when every computer used by students has text-to-speech enabled so that students can have that support whenever they want it.
Text-to-speech allows students to access text above their current reading age and supports students with learning or reading difficulties, people with some visual impairment, or those who prefer to hear rather than read.
Audio feedback is also a powerful editing tool as it reads the text as it is written rather than what the writer thought they had written.
Most products allow you to save the speech as an audio file and load it onto other devices such as an mp3 player or iPod. This options is great for reading when you are mobile - for example walking home, on the bus or in the car.
Obviously read aloud in the classroom can be quite disruptive so headphones are essential. These days we often don’t need to provide headphones as many students, especially seniors, carry them in their pocket with their portable music players.
Screen readers are not discussed here. They are designed for people with little or no vision and they read all computer activity rather than just the text.
See this video Dyslexia – Using an iPad to support learning on the enabling elearning website for an example of the power of text to speech.
Free text-to-speech options
All Mac computers include an excellent text-to-speech program. It has great voices and can speak text from any location, including text on internet pages. Highlight the text and then press the key combination to speak.
Set key combination: Systems preference → speech → text-to-speech tab → speak selected text when key is pressed → set key. Save audio files to iTune go to System preferences → services → services preferences.
Apple’s portable devices can read text in most apps aloud once you enable ‘speak selection’.
Settings → general →accessibility →speak selection. Once enabled, simply select any piece of text and the pop-up menu will offer the “speak” option. Save as audio is not available.
This is a comprehensive literacy support toolbar that works as an extension in the Google Chrome web browser and supports work in Google drive including Google docs. It does not work well in Google slides as it reads all of the menus before the selected text.
A 30 day free trial the full program is available for download. After 30 days a few features remain, including text-to-speech and the translator.
This simple add on reads selected text on the web in Google Chrome web browser and supports work in Google drive including Google docs (but not in Google slides). This app limits the number of words that can be read each day and does not cope well with large passages of text.
This extension is good for reading large amounts of text or whole pages from the web. When text is selected, announcify shows it on a de-cluttered page and reads from top to bottom. It smudges out all but the current paragraph so students can follow along more easily. It does not work on Google Docs.
Speak it worked well on most web sites but not in Google docs.
Microsoft Office - all of the Office products (Word, Excel, Onenote & PowerPoint) have a 'speak' icon that can be added to the quick access toolbar (or in Office 16 to any part of the ribbon).
Use the small icon on the side of the quick access toolbar → more commands → select all commands at the top → scroll down to 'speak' → add →ok.
Balabalka opens as a window and uses the voices already installed on your computer to read text. It includes links for additional voices on their website.
Opens files such as .doc .pdf, .txt, and HTML. Text can be cut and pasted or typed directly into the window. Save audio files as .mp3, mp4 and .wav and many more formats.
DSpeech opens as a window and uses the voices already installed on your computer to read text. You can configure different pieces of text with different voices to create a conversation or play scenario.
If you know of any other products in this range we would love to hear your reviews
Our colleague Nathaniel Louwrens has also done a great video showing how to set up and use the text-to-speech in Microsoft 365. It works very nicely and across Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Onenote - fab!
- YouTube video: Office 365 Speak text to speech
You might also be interested in the new beta Learning Tools add in for OneNote. Nathaniel and I had a look at this a few weeks ago. It has