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What Is Text-to-Speech?

Special education, assistive technology, and technology in general is chock full of jargon.

Bookshare uses terms that may seem like a foreign language, a fact I was recently reminded of while sharing a ride to Capitol Hill with a wise director from one of the many Parent Centers with whom we work.  She encouraged me to stop talking like a PhD and to start talking like a “Ph-DO.”

a screenshot from the beginning of a video showing text-to-speech software
Watch a short video showing text-to-speech with word-by-word highlighting.

To this end, we’ll dedicate this and future blog posts to making our terminology and technology more accessible to all.  This week, we focus on “text-to-speech” or TTS for short.

What is it? If you already know what it is, please think about sharing this post with others who don’t.

Quite simply, TTS means reading text out loud using one of the voices in a device or computer. Sometimes you can do more with TTS, such as read words out loud and highlight them simultaneously. The combination enables multi-modal reading. The voices are computer-generated (versus recorded by humans), but the days of the tin can voices are long gone. Today, TTS voices are highly natural sounding and enjoyable.  Here are some examples:

“The software offers text-to-speech,” which means that it reads the words out loud; the software could highlight words as well.

a screenshot from the opening screen of the Read2Go video
Watch text-to-speech and word-by-word highlighting.

For Read2Go, the Bookshare app for Apple devices (iOS) you can read in text only or text-to-speech mode with built-in voices. This means you can read it yourself or have the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch read it to you.  In TTS mode, you will simultaneously hear the words and see them highlighted.

Text-to-speech settings let you control which voice to use, how fast or slow you want the text read, and the pitch of the voice, among other settings which you can see in these two example screen shots.

The speech drop down menu in Read:OutLoud
The speech drop down menu in Read:OutLoud

Lots of our assistive technology (AT – another term we may tackle) partners offer text-to-speech, with simultaneous hearing and seeing highlighted words, including Cambium Learning’s Kurzweil 3000, Don Johnston’s Read:OutLoud, Freedom Scientific’s Wynn, and Texthelp’s Read&Write Gold.

Other partner devices offer text-to-speech that read text out loud, but don’t display text or highlight it, such as Plextalk and HumanWare.

the voice settings dialog box in Read:OutLoud
The voice settings dialog box in Read:OutLoud

Supposing that this introduction helps you understand the basics of TTS, your next questions should be who needs it and why? Please come back for the next post. And if you know others who need to learn about TTS, please feel free to share the post.


5 Comments

  1. Hi Betsy, Thanks for this informative post. I have a iphone and need an app which is providing text to speech program. Your article providing needful information about text to speech program. So can you suggest me a better app for text to speech.

    • Betsy Burgess

      Thanks for your comment. Read2Go, an iPhone app, has 2 very natural sounding built-in voices. I don’t know if it’s right for you? It provides easy access to Bookshare books, but can read other books as well. http://www.read2go.org has more information, or you can read about it in the iTunes app store.

  2. Jerry Kearbey

    Thank you Betsy for your easy to read and informative post. I’m a grandfather (retired) and it is posts like yours that helps me to communicate with my three grand children and actually know to an extent what they are talking about. Sometimes they even seem impressed. Keep up the good work!

  3. I have learned a lot from here. Text-to-speech is actually very helpful and I would recommend everyone to try this one. By the way, thank you for sharing this info about TTS. It’s a pleasure to be here.

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