Tuesday, January 26, 2016

3 text to speech tools and 5 ways your students can use them

Many times people are accused of talking to their computers. Well with text to speech tools, your computer can talk back. Google Chrome has several extensions that will read web pages and Google Documents aloud, often with a variety of voices and adjustments for speed and volume.

In this blog post we will take a look at five ways students can benefit from text to speech tools. Then we will examine three of the best Chrome extensions for this purpose.

You can view the short video to see a demo of each of the three tools, and then read the rest of the post for more details on how these can be used in school.

Demonstration Video



Student Uses for Text to Speech

Assistance for reading

One of the most common uses for text to speech is to help students who have difficulty reading. This can be used for an article on a website, or the content in an online course, or the instructions you put at the top of a Google Docs assignment. Most text to speech tools also allow the user to slow down or speed up the speaking rate. This can help the student listen at a pace that is appropriate for their comprehension.

Multiple modalities

Even if a student is able to read proficiently, using text to speech can provide additional support by tapping into a second learning modality. In addition to the student reading the words visually, the student can also hear the words read aloud. Students who learn well auditorily will benefit from this extra presentation of the content while they read along.

Self-editing for writing

Text to speech is not just to help students read unfamiliar text. It can also be used to read the words the students wrote themselves. When students write reports, essays, or stories, one of the best ways for them to edit their works is to hear it read back aloud to them. Before a student submits their work to their teacher they should use one of the text to speech tools to hear what they actually wrote, not what they think they wrote. This allows them to find incorrect words (“you” instead of “your”), missing punctuation, double words (the dreaded “the the”), sentences that do not flow, and ideas that need more details. In fact, I used text to speech on this blog post for my own editing.

World language fluency

Many text to speech tools don’t just work for the English language, but also have multiple voices you can select in many languages, dialects, and genders. For students learning a world language they can choose a text in the language they are studying, then pick a voice in that language to read the text, allowing them to hear the proper pronunciation.

Multitasking

Finally, in addition to all the educational reasons listed above, using a text to speech tool can simply save time. Need to read an article, but you also need to do chores, exercise, or just relax? Use a text to speech tool to read to you while you multitask. This can be helpful for students as well as adults, as I know I have listened to many web-based articles while folding laundry.


Text to Speech Tools


Read & Write for Google Chrome

Chrome Web Store link

Read & Write for Google is the Swiss army knife of extensions with a wide range of tools beyond just text to speech. However, for this blog post we will just focus on that feature (and take a closer look at this extension in its own post in the future).

With Read & Write installed, you will access it in two different ways depending on whether you are on a web page or in a Google Doc. If you are on a web page there will be an “RW” icon inside your URL bar on the far right. If you are in a Google Doc, there will be an “RW” icon at the top of the Doc. Either way just click the “RW” icon to open Read & Write.

You will now get a toolbar with a wide range of buttons. The text to speech button is the one with the triangular play icon. Simply select your text and click the play button to have it read aloud. Read & Write works inside a Google Doc or on a web page, reading just what you have highlighted. Additionally it highlights each word as it reads it, making it easier for students to follow along.

In this extension you also have the option to change voices. Click the gear icon on the right side of the toolbar to open the settings and select the voice and speed you want. Voices include male and female, and a wide range of nationalities.

In addition to the free version of Read & Write, there is also a paid premium version that offers many tools beyond text to speech. Teachers, however, can get the premium version for free by filling out a simple form on the company’s website here: http://rw.texthelp.com/drive/home/RegisterTeacher

SpeakIt!

Chrome Web Store link

This extension is a very simple text to speech tool, but still has lots of options if you want them. With the extension installed, just highlight the text you want, then click the extension icon, or right click on the text and choose “SpeakIt!” The text will now be read aloud in whatever voice you have chosen. If you would like a different voice simply right click on the extension and choose “Options”. You can now pick the voice you want, including male or female, and a large selection of nationalities. You can also adjust the voice volume and speed.

The only negative I have found with SpeakIt is when reading a Google Document. The extension works great on web pages, but when used in a Google Doc it always starts at the beginning of the document regardless of what text you highlight.


Announcify

Chrome Web Store link

Our final text to speech extension is Announcify. This extension reads web page text aloud, but also does a few other things along with that. When you are on a web page and click the Announcify extension, the web page will reload in a simpler, cleaner format (much like the Readability extension - see here for a blog post with more details). Ads, comments, and such will be removed, leaving just the core content and images.

Then Announcify will automatically start reading the web page text. You are not able to highlight the text you want, as it always starts at the top and reads completely to the bottom. You can click on the forward and backward buttons if you want it to skip ahead. Finally the extension also blurs out all of the text except for the paragraph it is currently reading.

Just like the other extensions, you can right click on its icon and choose “Options” to adjust the speed, pitch, and voice (male, female, multiple nationalities). The only big drawback is the inability for the student to select text and have Announcify read just the chosen passage.

Conclusion

Do you have other favorite tools for text to speech? Are there other ideas for how students can benefit from text to speech? If so, please share your ideas, tools, and suggestions in the comments below.


4 comments:

  1. left wondering what copyright issues are involved with using speech files created with these for commercial use.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would also add Select and Speak into this list of tools, it's a Chrome Extension and it uses this technology: Text to Speech for free (demo).
    I believe their natural sounding voice it's over any other listed in here.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Exciting to study this writing piece! You put up an amazing type research and cooperate with your readers. Thanks much sentence paraphrasing

    ReplyDelete