Text to Speech Readers

There’s good stuff today – and getting better all the time – if you’re visually impaired, or in my case, a writer.  Built into every modern computer is the ability to read what’s on the screen.  I think it’s obvious how it can help the visually impaired, so I want to focus in on how it helps those who write.

When I began to put The Way of All Flesh together, my editors challenged me to self edit by reading my work aloud and fixing those things that grated in my ears.  That’s fantastic advice, no matter what your medium is – books, articles, blogs, whatever – and it would have been good for me but for two things.  First of all, I dislike hearing my own voice, and I’m probably not alone.  Besides, some of it is really charged stuff, and listening to it in my own voice is just creepy.

Now take a look at this:

Second, and most importantly, it’s my story.  I’m totally sucked into it.  I can’t see the forest for the trees, and thanks to a kind of confirmation bias, sometimes I even miss the forest.  Not surprising though, I can usually spot them a mile off if someone else does it.  That’s where text to speech (TTS) comes in.

Right off the bat, Windows 8 and 8.1 have narrator built in. Earlier versions called it something else, but it’s still there buried in the Control Panel. On Mac, it’s called VoiceOver.  Fire it up and your computer will read your document to you, free of charge and in a different voice.

Okay, so it’s a little mechanical sounding, and the inflection can be wildly off, but hey, it’s still pretty good.  I’m not sure about the Mac (I don’t have access to one) but on Win8+, you get three voices to choose from, and they sound pretty decent.

I took things a step further – I wrote a program that allows me to import a Word document, assign voices and chapters and hit play.  It then goes through and dumps it down to MP3’s.  I pop them on my phone and when I’m driving I set the player on random (the breaks keep it odd enough that I don’t get so sucked in I miss things).  Now, I only get three voices, one male and two female, but I interleave them for the conversations, and it works great.

I haven’t used these products, but they certainly seem interesting:

In the future, I will be reviewing some for-pay products.

What are you using? Tell us in the comments!