Text to Speech

Text to Speech (TTS) software speaks the text on the computer screen using a generated voice. TTS is one of the most powerful technologies for help with reading or writing, particularly if you:

  • read slowly or with difficulty;
  • find it difficult to concentrate when reading;
  • want feedback when writing;
  • want help with spotting errors when proof-reading
  • have visual stress when reading paper or a screen;
  • benefit from the multisensory experience of seeing and hearing.

Nearly all computers come with some basic text to speech voices and the TTS programs provide the controls and functions in their own window and/or as toolbars in applications such as Word, PDF, e-mails, text files, e-readers and the web. Many TTS tools can speak letters, words and/or sentences as you type them. Some software for dyslexic people also speaks navigation links and icons.

Highlighted Text.

Text to Speech is most helpful when it highlights the words as they are spoken. Dyslexic people say this focuses their attention and helps their understanding of the content. Some studies have shown that a combination of TTS and highlighting improve reading skills.

Voice quality.

TTS programs use synthesised speech engines. Unlike the early robotic sounding voices most of the latest, paid-for programs have excellent human sounding speech engines. Other voices, including some with regional accents, are now available for purchase. Pronunciation, particularly of abbreviations and punctuation, is improving, but there are still occasional ‘funnies’.

TTS for devices.

TTS is now also available on most SmartPhones (such as iPhones and Android phones) and Tablets (such as iPads). See B.D.A. Tech page on Apps and dyslexia.

Text to Speech tools for PC and Mac computers.

There is no ‘one best program’ as they all have different additional facilities and prices. As with all technology, it can take time to learn how to use it and integrate it into your way of working.

TTS variables:

Free Pay Free and Pay
Own WP Other programs Own and others
Dual hi-liting Hi-liting No hi-liting
From cursor Selection Occasional word
Spell-checker Definitions Thesaurus

1. Free Text to Speech.
     Balabolka, Natural Reader,
     WordTalk, PowerTalk, Adobe Reader Read Out Loud,
     Microsoft Office 2010 Speak. Macs.
2. Free Text to Speech for webs.
     ATBar, Babelbar, CLiCk Speak.
     Browsealoud, RokTalk, SpeakIt, ReciteMe.
Software for purchase.
3. Word-processors with speech.
     Mainly for children: Clicker, WriteOnLine,
     Communicate: SymWriter, Textease, Write:OutLoud,
     For all ages: Kurzweil 3000, SprintPlus.
4. Text to Speech for one or more programs.
     ClaroRead, Read & Write, SaySo,
     WordQ, Snap & Read, Penfriend.
5. Talking cameras.
     Intel Reader, CapturaTalk.
6. Text to Speech in e-readers.
     Blio, EasyReader.

1. Free Text to Speech.

  • Balabolka. (Russian for ‘chatterer’) opens Word and PDF files as plain text and can speak with synchronised high-lighting. It colors the text, and leaves the color on what has been read, like a trail. It can create mp3 files.
    A floating toolbar can speak selected text saved to the Clipboard in any application, but without high-lighting.

  • Free Natural Reader. Write in, or copy and paste into, its own word processor for synchronised high-lighting. It uses block background yellow (no choice) for each sentence, with the target word in white text in blue block. Pay for more voices, scanning and mp3 creation.
    A floating toolbar will speak selected text in Word, PDFs, web pages and Outlook, without synchronised high-lighting.

  • WordTalk. This Add-In speaks Word documents with synchronised high-lighting. Target words have black block with white text. Or, all the text can have background high-lighting with the target word in a contrasting color. It can also speak spellchecker suggestions and synonyms.

  • PowerTalk. Speaks PowerPoint files, continuously, without synchronised high-lighting. Other TTS can speak Powerpoints, but you have to click on every textbox in turn.

  • Adobe Reader, (included in most computers) for PDF files, has a Read Out Loud feature. It speaks the whole page or the whole document or the paragraph on which you click, (all without synchronised high-lighting).

  • Microsoft Office 2010 Speak is a well hidden facility, free if you already have Office. It can speak selected text in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Add an icon to the Quick Access toolbar or to the Ribbon.

  • Macs have built-in text-to-speech in the System Preferences under Dictation and Speech.

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2. Free Text to Speech for webs.

  • ATBar adds a toolbar to practically any browser. As well as text to speech it offers other tools such as changing the layout of the web page to make it easier to read and using spell checking and word prediction when writing on pages. The text to speech uses an internet connection to convert selected text and provides a high-quality UK female voice, but no high-lighting.

  • Babelbar free download is available for most browsers and works, without hi-liting, on any website that you visit, but not on iPhones, iPads etc. It has Auto Read (speaks on hover), Speak Selection, Translation, Subtitling, Background colour, Font size and Theme for Facebook etc. options. The versions for Internet Explorer and Firefox show the toolbar all the time; in Google Chrome you have to click on the icon for each page to show the menu, and it has more background colour options.

  •  CLiCk, Speak for Firefox web browser, can speak selected text. Auto Reading Mode, starting from any point on the page, hi-lites one sentence at a time. It speaks selections with the same block hi-liting and white text.

Free for the user, on enabled webs, paid for by web owners.
Browsealoud logo

  • Browsealoud from Texthelp. Download for PC and Mac, Internet Explorer and Firefox, with a good range of options.
    Browsealoud Plus. Drag the link to your Bookmarks tool-bar for IE, Firefox, Google Chrome, iPad, iPhone, iPod and Androids. Click to open a toolbar to hear selected text or speaking from the cursor.
    Both speak with synchronised high-lighting. B.D.A. Tech web is enabled for Browsealoud.

  • ROKTalk. No download is required, but it has no synchronised hi-liting. Hear selected text or a paragraph over which you hover. It offers translation and saving as mp3. Free Babelbar, above, is from Roktalk.

  • SpeakIt from Dixerit, developed by Claro Software. No download is required but no synchronised high-lighting. Hear selected text, or hover and click.

  • ReciteMe logoRecite Me uses Cereproc voices. It is easy to use, has no download. It hi-lites and speaks any paragraph over which you hover. The derived plain text pages now also have TTS. It offers a choice of typefaces.

All the TTS that operates from a floating toolbar can speak web pages. Balabolka, Natural Reader, WordQ, SprintPlus and Snap & Read can speak selected text, without hi-liting. Penfriend can speak selected web page text with hi-liting. ClaroRead, Read & Write and SaySo speak with hi-liting, on hover, or from the cursor.

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Software for purchase.

Most are available on trial, by download.

3. Word-processors with speech.

These stand-alone programs all have Text to Speech with synchronised high-lighting and many other features. More details are given in Talking Word-processors page in B.D.A. tech web

  • Clicker. With word grids. Crick.  See B.D.A. tech Word and PDF files about Clicker.

  • WriteOnLine. Use online or offline. Crick. See B.D.A. tech Word and PDF files about WriteOnLine.

  • Communicate: SymWriter. Word processor with symbols. Widgit. See B.D.A. Tech Word and PDF files about symbol support.

  • TextEase, now from RM, Textease. See details on the Writing page.

  • Write:OutLoud Don Johnston at Inclusive Technology.

  • Kurzweil 3000. Stand-alone word processor. You can import pdf files, which it scans and presents exactly like the original. It can also import Word and text files. It high-lights a sentence, paragraph, line or phrase in one colour and high-lights each word in another colour as it is read aloud, i.e. dual synchronized high-lighting. Available from iansyst.
  • firefly for the iPad is free for Kurzweil 3000 customers, from the Apple store.

  • SprintPlus has several presentations, each with different high-lighting.
    The synchronised high-lighting in SprintPDF is block or background, by single word in ‘whole document’ or ‘from the cursor’ reading. Reading by ‘line’ or ‘sentence’, and by ‘Click & Read’, show the unit in one color of the user’s choice, and the target words in another color, as each is spoken.
    The synchronised high-lighting in the Add-on for Word, is by coloring the text, not block or background.
    SprintPlus own simple word processor, for text and RTF files, shows blue block with white text high-lighting on each word as it is spoken.
    The icon Sprinter reads selected text in other applications, e.g. web and e-mail, without high-lighting.

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4. Text to Speech for many applications.

These operate from floating toolbars. All speak Word files, and some speak PDF files and web pages, with synchronised high-lighting. They speak buttons and menus and have many other features.

  • ClaroRead toolbar

    ClaroRead toolbar

    ClaroRead has several versions. ClaroRead SE was specially produced for the British Dyslexia Association, which sells it with Oribi Verity Spell. The Standard, Plus, Pro and Mac versions have more features.
  • ClaroRead can speak Word, PDF and Internet Explorer files with hi-liting and other browsers on hover or selected text, without hi-liting. A word, sentence, paragraph or word trail has the text color of your choice, with or without a background color.
  • ClaroSpeak and ClaroPDF apps can speak with hi-liting. Import text into them. Compose text while listening and then export to e-mail etc. Issued by Claro Software via Apple.

  • Read and Write Picture DictionaryRead & Write Gold. It includes PDFaloud, which reads PDF files with dual high-lighting. ScreenShot Reader can read inaccessible text. High-lighting can be by word with block color and white text; or by sentence or paragraph with colored background color and target words in a contrasting color and white text. You can hear the on-line picture dictionary and verb checker data.
  • Several Read & Write Gold apps, are available to owners of the Texthelp program.

  • SaySo. Dolphin Computer Access SaySo has dual high-lighting for speech from the cursor, or high-lighted speaking of one sentence under the mouse (hover). Its  toolbar operates in Word, pdfs in Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Outlook. The facility Bookshelf e-Reader can also speak text, ePub and DAISY files (which SaySo can create).

  • WordQ+SpeakQWordQ and SpeakQ from Assistive Solutions offer text to speech, and speech to text, and prediction, in an easy combination of packages. They will speak any text that you can select. They do not have all the features of Texthelp Read and Write or ClaroRead and Dragon NaturallySpeaking but may suit those who are not using the full functionality of those two programs, in particular in a work situation.

  • Snap and Read is a TTS tool with no other facilities. It speaks any onscreen text that you select, and is particularly helpful for otherwise inaccessible text, e.g. text in images and heavily protected text. Snap and Read is a Don Johnston product, available in UK from Inclusive Technology.

  • Penfriend XP and XL are highly developed word prediction programs for writing purposes. They speak your text and the prediction suggestions. Penfriend XL speaks spelling, thesaurus, dictionary and translations. They can also speak web pages. See Predictive programs.

It would be interesting to hear the views of dyslexic users on hi-liting of text or background, and on sentence or single word or both.

The other features in TTS programs may include:
Spellchecker, homophone checker, grammar checker, thesaurus, magnification, scanning from paper to Word or PDF, scanning from PDF to Word, a screen ruler which colors one line at a time, word prediction, saving text as audio files or video, changing text style, size, color and background color, concept mapping, bookmarks, notes, saving text and pictures from the web, and translation.

iansyst has a useful comparison page with details of all features of Write:OutLoud, Read & Write, ClaroRead and Kurzweil 3000.

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5. Talking cameras.

Still expensive, but halved in price since their launch, these facilities can scan text and convert it instantly to Text to Speech with synchronised high-lighting.

  • The Intel Reader is a slim portable tablet reader with camera. It captures text to OCR and speaks it aloud and it can display large print. It has a very good stand on to which it clips, like a desktop CCTV when scanning books. It is available from Inclusive Technology.

  • CapturaTalk for the Windows mobile phone allows you to select text or a complete document and have it read back with a good quality voice and word high-lighting.
    You can take a picture of a menu or poster and it will use OCR to convert the graphic into readable text. It copes with M.S. Word files and the latest version can read Adobe PDFs. Available from CapturaTalk.

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6. Text to Speech in e-readers.

These comparison pages show which hand-held e-book readers have audio facilities, (when authors allow it) though not necessarily with synchronised high-lighting.

Blio has good integral text to speech, with synchronised single word high-lighting in Windows Android, iPad and iPhone. You can save Word files as XPS to use in the Blio presentation.

There is no free dual high-lighting for e-readers, but Dolphin EasyReader can open digital talking books, DAISY books, unprotected ePub files, text files and HTML files, and speak with dual high-lighting. In DAISY and ePubs, it can say the Navigation Pane contents list, (one click to hear it, two clicks to go to it).

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© B.D.A. New Technologies Committee. July 2015.
Copies of this page may be made providing it is unchanged and the source is acknowledged.

9 Responses to Text to Speech

  1. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. bruno babin says:

    Text Speaker is one of the best text to speech software. It has customizable pronunciation and can create WAV or MP3’s from your text. The bundled voices are well priced and there is an excellent selection of text to speech voices.

  3. Mike says:

    Panopreter text to speech software ( http://www.panopreter.com ) is powerful and simple to use.

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  5. sharon says:

    Text to speech software is helpful for disabled people, people who read slowly, or have difficulty in pronunciation. Text Speaker is highly recommended software which speaks your text aloud with high quality professional voices.

  6. Afshin says:

    This was extremely useful.
    Thank you so much for taking the time writing this.

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