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By Paul Nisbet on Monday 19th September, 2011 at 4:22pm
TextHelp, publishers of Read and Write Gold and PDFaloud, have decided that they will no longer sell PDFaloud as a standalone program. Since 2008, Scottish schools have been able to buy a site licence for PDFaloud for £295 from Learning and Teaching Scotland, under a special licencing deal. We helped set up this scheme because we felt that PDFaloud was a simple and easy to use tool for reading digital exams and other PDFs, and £295 for a secondary school licence we felt was relatively good value. I believe that Education Scotland still have two boxed sets still in stock so contact them quick if you want to get PDFaloud.
So, what are the alternatives if you want to have your digital papers or PDF textbooks read out by the computer? Here are some of the options:
Adobe Reader Read Out Loud
Adobe Reader has a basic built-in free text reader. Click on View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud. You can listen to the current page or the whole paper but a better method is to choose the Select tool (Tools > Select and Zoom > Select Tool) and then click on some text. Read Out Loud will read the text where you have clicked. It wont highlight the words, it usually reads a whole paragraph (and you cant tell it to only read a sentence or individual word) but its free and built in to Adobe Reader.
Read and Write Gold
TextHelp's Read and Write Gold includes PDFaloud, and some schools or local authorities already have Read and Write Gold. You need Read and Write Gold 8.1 or later because earlier versions can't read from Adobe Reader 8 or 9. Read and Write Gold can read from anything, not just PDFs, and the program has lots of other tools for suporting reading, writing and studying. However, Read and Write Gold is more expensive than PDFaloud at £320 for a single user licence, £1,150 for a primary site and £1,995 for a secondary site. TextHelp are offering to upgrade a secondary PDFaloud site licence to Read and Write Gold version 10 for £1,350. Read and Write Gold can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.
The latest version 5.7 of ClaroRead is much better at reading PDFs than previous versions, and it now does a good job of reading and highlighting the text in the PDF as it reads. Like Read and Write Gold, ClaroRead can read from anything including for example Microsoft Word and internet browsers. It also comes with good voices and tools such as word prediction, spellchecking and scanning. ClaroRead costs from £49 for a single user licence and various site licence options are available, e.g. £795 for up to 250 students, £1,050 for up to 1,000 students. ClaroRead can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.
With the latest version of the Co:Writer word predictor you can select some text, click the >> button in the Co:Writer window and choose Speak to have it read out. The text is not highlighted as it is read. Co:Writer costs £39 per licence for Scottish schools, from Education Scotland.
The Penfriend word predictor can read text from a PDF. You select the text, copy it, and then Penfriend will read and highlight it in a separate window. Penfriend costs £24.99 per user for Scottish schools from Education Scotland. When you copy the text from the PDF, it adds a paragraph mark after each line, which means that the voice hesitates when it comes to the end of the line. This can be off-putting compared to PDFaloud and ClaroRead, which don't generally hesitate at the end of each line. Penfriend can be installed or run direct from a USB stick.
Free text readers: Natural Reader, IVONA Minireader and Balabolka
There are many free text readers available and we like Natural Reader, Ivona Minireader and Balabolka because they are straightforward and easy to use and work with the Scottish voices. With Natural Reader and Ivona, you select the text you want to read and then click the 'Play' button or press a hotkey. The text then gets read out, but it is not highlighted in the PDF as it reads. Like Penfriend, these programs generally hesitate at the end of each line of the PDF because they think there is a paragraph mark.
Alternatively, you can copy the text to the clipboard and then Natural Reader and Balabolka can read it out, and highlight it, in a separate window. This takes up space on the screen and is not as good as having it read and highlighted in the document itself. There is a 'portable' version of Balabolka which runs from a USB stick. Balabolka is also part of the AccessApps and MyStudyBar suites.