Computer generated voices are great these days! Since the introduction of Apple’s Siri on the iPhone 4S, we’ve been spoiled for natural voice synthesis. It’s fine when you’re working with one of the many digital assistants we have at our fingertips, but what if you just want the computer to read some text to you?
It turns out there are many options that can make your computer more talkative than you’re used to. We’ll cover both our own and third-party solutions for converting text on screen to spoken word, most of them are already at your fingertips! Let’s get your computer to read some text out loud.
Windows 10 Narrator
Windows 10 has a built-in app known as Narrator that acts as a screen reader and text-to-speech (TTS) tool. Narrator is a general purpose application that can work with most applications that contain selectable text.
It will also voice your every Windows action. So, as you probably guessed, it is most useful for users with any kind of visual impairment, as it can also help you navigate the operating system itself.
To activate Narrator, simply press Ctrl + Windows Key + Enter.
For the first time, you will receive a welcome message with important notes for the latest version of Narrator. Then Narrator’s main window will open. From here you can access Narrator settings and fine tune what it should read or ignore.
Out of the box, you can easily get the program to read text on the screen. For example, on a web page, just click where Narrator should start reading. You will see a blue rectangle around the text when Narrator reads. It will stop at the end of the first paragraph, after which you can simply use the down arrow key to move to the next paragraph. Arrow keys make it easy to navigate through the text.
When you’re done, just press the Narrator key combination again and it will stop.
Microsoft Word “talk” command
Microsoft Word is more than just a sophisticated tool for creating written documents, it turns out that you can get the program to read those documents for you. It’s also super easy as the option is built right into the Word toolbar. Here’s how to do it:
1. Open a Word document with the text you want to read aloud
2. Highlight the text you want to read
3. Click the Browse tab at the top of the Word window
4. Click Read Aloud
The computer will immediately start reading the text aloud. To stop it before reaching the end of the selected text, press Read Aloud again.
Adobe Acrobat Reader read aloud feature
Adobe Acrobat is the most famous PDF reader in the world, which makes sense considering the format was invented by Adobe! Acrobat Reader has been around for several decades, and the latest version contains many useful features, including those aimed at accessibility.
Adobe Acrobat DC, the latest version at the time of writing, has a feature called Read Aloud. It is a very easy to use tool and there are two ways to access it.
The first way is using the application menu.
1. Click View
2. Hover over Read Aloud
3.Click “Activate Read Aloud”
Now, using the same menu, you can choose:
- Read this page only
- Read to the end of the document
However, it is much easier to use keyboard shortcuts:
- Shift + Ctrl + Y will activate reading aloud
- Shift + Ctrl + V will only read this page
- Shift + Ctrl + B will read to the end of the document
- Shift + Ctrl + C will pause
- Shift + Ctrl + E will stop
This way, you can easily control the reading of your PDF Remember, Acrobat can only read digital text. He cannot read text in images.
Get your Mac to read text aloud
We don’t want to leave Mac readers behind, so here’s the easiest built-in way to get your Mac to read text out loud. This is the accessibility part that uses a hotkey to start and stop spoken reading of selected text. It’s easy to set up:
1. First select the Apple menu and then System Preferences.
2. Now select “Accessibility” and then “Speech”.
3. Then select “Speak selected text on keypress”
The default keyboard shortcut is Option + Esc, but you can change this by choosing Change Key and then using Command, Shift, Option, or Control along with any other key to create your own shortcut.
Third-party apps to convert text to speech
You may have noticed that the built-in text-to-speech voices in Windows are quite simple in functionality and lack the best synthesized voices. Therefore, if you are not satisfied with the speech options built into the operating system, there are always third-party applications that can offer something closer to what you need.
Voice Reader Home by Linguatec is a general recommendation for those looking for a more reliable and productive text-to-speech solution. The price is per voice, but each voice takes up a whopping 1GB of space.
These are some of the best general purpose TTS voices we have ever heard. What’s more, they are available in multiple languages, not just high quality English voices. Another major advantage is that this software runs on your local computer, so no internet connection is required.
If you don’t mind the need for an internet connection, you can take full advantage of the cloud’s capabilities. NaturalReader is a web service that allows you to download text and documents and read them aloud using advanced, more natural voices. You can also convert documents to MP3 files and listen to them on your smartphone or other music player.
Talk to me!
While nothing ever compares to real-world reading of a human voice, users of any type will find text-to-speech useful for a variety of reasons. Whether you have a visual impairment or just need to do something else while you listen to the content of a document, these text-to-speech solutions make it easy to give your eyes a rest and let your ears do all the reading. –