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Search results for the Tag keyword: Text to speech
By Stuart Aitken on Monday 27th August, 2012 at 4:32pm
A well hidden feature in Microsoft Office 2010 is the option to speak text out. Yes, MS Office 2010 includes a text-to-speech feature. It is pretty basic but it is available.
As MS Office is integrated with Windows it means that whichever voice is selected in that computer's Control Panel will be used when you select Speak. If you have Heather or Stuart or both installed you can choose one or other of these high quality Scottish voices to speak the text. (You do this via the Control Panels rather in Word itself [Control Panels > Speech Recognition > Text-to-Speech, selecting the preferred voice from the drop down list.]
Because it is part of MS Word you can assign a Keyboard Shortcut to start and stop speaking text. This is very useful for pupils with a visual impairment, poor mouse control or simply because the pupil finds it quicker to use keyboard commands rather than mouse clicking.
MS Word is just one of the Office Programs that the Speak feature works with. It can also be made available to use with PowerPoint (yes talking PowerPoint), Excel and OneNote (one of our favourite programs that deserves more widespread use in schools). You follow the same steps to add the Speak feature in each program.
You can also add Speak to the Quick Access Toolbar and position the toolbar below the Ribbon to simplify the interface for pupils.
WordTalk versus Speak
So how does Speak, the MS Office 2010 text-to-speech feature compare with WordTalk, the toolbar designed to use with MS Word versions from Word 97 onwards?
In favour of Speak are the fact that it is built in not just to Word but to other MS Office 2010 software. It uses whichever voice is the Default voice used by the computer. Speak offers a range of text-to-speech options - by word, paragraph etc. A big advantage is that you can add Speak to the Quick Access toolbar, position the Quick Access toolbar below the Ribbon, and then Minimise the Ribbon (Right click on Ribbon > select Minimise). The pupil can then attend more easily to what he or she is reading or writing. Another advantage is that because it is a Microsoft product it should work smoothly with future updates to MS Office 2010 (and 2013).
Because WordTalk was designed by a teacher to support a pupil with severe dyslexia (who went on to achieve Highers), it includes features that teachers often find useful: Save as MP3 or Wav audio for listening to later; talking dictionary; an easy way to turn on and off keyboard shortcuts - a must for pupils who find it difficult to control a mouse or who just like to be able to access features quickly. The biggest advantage with WordTalk is that pupils who prefer to have text highlighted so that they can follow the text and listen to the spoken version can do so. They can also change the highlighting and text colour – useful for pupils with scotopic sensitivity problems.
Find out more
Weve prepared a Quick Guide on Finding and Installing the Speak Text feature in MS Word 2010. The Quick Guide covers finding and adding the Speak button, assigning a Keyboard Shortcut, how to add the Speak button to the Quick Access Toolbar and how to position the toolbar below the Ribbon.
To find out about using the Speak facility in additional languages visit Microsofts language site.
Once installed because the Speak feature is integrated with Windows it will recognise the language used within the text and read out in that language – provided the speech engine for the language is installed.
Well done Microsoft…now please bring back Large Icons!
Weve given Microsoft major pats on the back for providing an option to Speak text in Word documents (and in Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). It would be great if they would bring back a couple of really useful features from MS Office 2003.
We think Microsoft made a huge own goal by not providing a much used feature in MS Word 2003, PowerPoint, Excel - the option to use Large Icons in the toolbar.
The facility to record voice comments or voice notes is also available in MS Word 2007 and 2010 but it does not have the simplicity of MS Word 2003 – a feature that for many pupils was the difference between handing in work that they had produced themselves (recording their spoken answers in the document) or having to rely on scribing. MS Word 2007 and 2010 do provide this feature but for the pupils who are likely to benefit most, it is too difficult to access.
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By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at 4:29pm
Following on from the previous post re PDFaloud not offering you Stuart, Robert here in CALL has written a script which finds all the PDFaloud safe voice lists on your Windows computer and adds Stuart to them.
Here's what to do:
- Install Stuart first.
- Save the file to your computer.
- Find the file (it's called install-stuart-to-safevoices.zip.), double click on it to open or unzip it, and then double click on "install.cmd"
- It will then update the PDFaloud safe voices with Stuart.
- Restart Adobe Reader and PDFaloud should offer you Stuart.
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By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 28th September, 2011 at 5:45pm
The new Scottish male computer voice is now available for download from CALL's web site. 'Stuart' works with most text-to-speech programs including for example ClaroRead, Co:Writer, PDFaloud, Penfriend, Read and Write Gold and WordTalk.
However, if you install Stuart on your computer, you won't see it in the list of voices offered by PDFaloud. This is because PDFaloud offers you voices from a list of 'safe voices' that have been tested with PDFaloud. This doesn't necessarily mean another voice won't work - it may just mean that Texthelp haven't tested it. Since Stuart is brand new, he isn't in the safe voices list and so you won't see him.
You can add Stuart to the safe voices list by opening the 'safevoices.ini' file that is usually to be found in C:\Program Files\Adobe\Reader 9.0\Reader\plug_ins\Texthelp, adding the voice, and then saving the file again.
Step 1: Go to C:\Program Files\Adobe\Reader 9.0\Reader\plug_ins\Texthelp and double click on "safevoice.ini" so that it opens in Notepad.
Step 2: Scroll down to the bottom of the list and type in "CereVoice Stuart - English (Scotland)". Make sure the name of the voice that you type in is exactly as it appears in the Speech tab of the Windows Control Panel.
Step 3: Save the file.
Step 4: Restart Adobe Reader and Stuart should now be in the PDFaloud list of voices.
Step 5: Enjoy reading your digital papers with a bloke's voice ;).
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By Paul Nisbet on Friday 23rd September, 2011 at 11:58am
A common question we get from staff, parents and students is "Can I use speech recognition software to dictate my answers into the computer in an examination?" and so SQA funded us to spend some time trying to answer this. We've written a report with the results of the tests we've carried out on Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows 7 speech recognition, and WordQ+SpeakQ and you can download it from here.
We found that:
The accuracy and reliability of speech recognition software has improved considerably in recent years and all the programs tested were functional and seemed effective when dictating into a word processor. So if you want to use speech recognition to dictate extended answers into Microsoft Word for the Standard Grade English Writing paper, or Higher History, for example, then all of the programs can be used.
However, Windows speech recognition is not functional for dictating into SQA digital question papers, and so we do not recommend it for use in examinations unless the candidate is only intending to dictate into a word processor.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the most well known speech recognition program and can be used to dictate into both digital question papers and to a word processor. It is probably the most accurate, is relatively easy to train and use and gives voice control over formatting and over the computer in general. Dragon has text-to-speech for reading back the dictated text, and the Premium version can also play back a recording of the dictation to help with finding and correcting errors. For single user copies, Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium is available with an educational discount (£68) and the 100-user Professional school license at £895 would seem to be relatively good value for schools who wish to make the software available to a large number of pupils. The educational discounts are availabel through Pugh or Dyslexic.com.
WordQ + SpeakQ is speech recognition software specifically designed for users who have difficulties with literacy. It uses the Windows speech recognition system, but accessed using a different, simpler interface. It has text-to-speech to help get through the training process; it can read back each phrase as it is dictated; it has text-to-speech for proof-reading; and it provides word prediction. SpeakQ can be used to dictate into SQA digital papers and also to word processors. WordQ + SpeakQ is arguably simpler to use than Dragon and the integrated text-to-speech and word prediction does make it a more attractive option for writers with reading and writing difficulties. WordQ + SpeakQ requires use of the keyboard and so it is not suitable for users who wish to control the computer completely by voice. A single user license for WordQ + SpeakQ is £199 and a site licence is £1995 from Assistive Solutions.
Speech recognition software may have considerable potential to enable some candidates to work independently and to rely less on scribes, and we are thinking it would be useful to organise some trials in schools to investigate this potential and to look at the practicalities of using speech recognition in exams. If you are interested please contact us.
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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.
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By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 14th June, 2011 at 3:54pm
Well the votes are in and we can now reveal that the winner is....... SPA!
We emailed samples of six male voices out to people who had downloaded Heather, to key contacts in local authorities, FE colleges and Universities, to ICTSLS, members of SICTDG, members of Augmentative Communication in Practice Scotland, and to children and young people who use Assistive Technology.
We received feedback, comments and scores from 82 people. SPA got the highest overall score, and was also the voice that most people preferred as the first and second choice.
SPA went into the recording studio a few weeks ago to start recording about 30 hours worth of reading, and we understand that he has just finished the recording. It will take CereProc a few weeks to process the recordings and create the voice, and we hope to have it available for download from our Scottish Voice web site by the start of the new school term.
We now need a name... and we might have a vote for that too... so watch this space.
Thanks to everyone who listened to the voices and gave us the feedback.
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By Paul Nisbet on Monday 7th March, 2011 at 2:29pm
We are very pleased to announce that the Scottish Government has awarded us funding to work with CereProc to develop a male Scottish computer voice: a 'brother for Heather'. The funding will also pay for a licence for the entire public sector in Scotland, so that the voice can be used by school-age pupils, further and higher education students, workers in the public sector, and NHS patients.
Heather has been very well received by Scottish learners and pupils and we hope that the new male voice will be just as successful. It should certainly provide a better option for Scots boys with speech and language difficulties who use voice output communication aids, because at present they have a choice of speaking with very adult and very English voices, or one of a few rather low-fi Amercian children's accents, or with a female voice.
CereProc are currently advertising for a voice actor to provide the 'male voice of Scottish education'. A short list of suitable voices will then be drawn up and then the most suitable person chosen. The 'chosen one' then goes into a recording studio and spends many hours reading from texts, and then CereProc's engineers use these recordings to create the computer voice.
We'll keep you posted on progress.
In the meantime, if anyone has suggestions for a good name for the male Scottish voice (Euan? Ian? Hamish? Graham? David? Jimmy? Angus? Rab? Rhuaridh?) why not post a comment to let us know!