Happy Talking - Using Text-to-Speech to Support Reading and Writing
Text to Speech software has been around for a long time now but, as usual, the Education profession is the last user to jump on the train as it leaves the station. There are many great tools out there, and I've been looking at a few good - and some not so good - ones this week.
Help with writing
There are many Text-To-Speech (TTS) applications available on the market, ranging from those freely available to download, to various paid options. Being ever-frugal, I have tested a few free TTS apps and found varying degrees of success.
The benefits of text to speech applications are enormous. Using a simple, free application like Evernote, it is possible to record what you want to appear in writing, simply by dictating it to your mobile device. Having this app on a mobile and a laptop is very useful. When you finish recording your speech in Evernote, it transfers speech to text and will immediately be available in text format on your phone and laptop. Evernote cleverly syncs the files, notes and recordings, enabling you to access them from any device you own - and you can then edit it for spelling errors, funky translatations (!) and any pausing, 'ers' and 'ums' can be deleted before saving a final copy.
I have found that having a Scottish accent does not always seem to help in my endeavours to find a suitable TTS app. One such app that I quickly discarded was 'D-Speech'. This was rated in eLearning Industry's 'Top 14 Free Text to Speech Tools For Educators' but it proved to be too dificult a task for it to decipher even my clearest enunciations! It provided me with entertainment, but little else of any use...
Help with reading
I have also looked at TTS apps to help with reading text aloud to the reader. This type of software will be of enormous help to children who struggle with reading, or others with specific issues such as students diagnosed with Dyslexia. Luckily, I have found two very good tools that are free and very simple to use.
The first one I particularly liked is TTS Reader. This can be opened in a browser and is very user-friendly and intuitive. The user can select the type of accent they wish their 'reader' to have, which is a nice feature - who wants to listen to a passage read by a robotic voice?! You just have to copy and paste the text you wish to hear being read aloud into the box on the page, and press the play button. Simple!
The second TTS app I particularly liked is Natural Readers. This is another web-based tool. It looks even more child-friendly than TTS Reader and works in almost exactly the same intuitive way.
These would be great to use for all sorts of online work with students, like reading aloud comprehension passages or even problem solving in maths. It would also be a great tool for children to use when they research or even edit their own work, encouraging independence and creating a sense of achievement.