Have the Computer Read to You: Text to Speech on a Mac

Mac computers have some built-in assistive technology features. While traditionally text-to-speech programs have only been used by those students who really need it, text-to-speech is useful to all:

  • Read a document or website aloud to you if you are an auditory learner
  • Read back the paragraph you just wrote – hearing it aloud will make errors more obvious
  • Read aloud text in a foreign language so you can hear the correct pronunciation

This past year, I temporarily lost my voice. I taught my classes all day long via text-to-speech by typing what I wanted to say and having the computer read it aloud to my class. I hope no one has to use that trick too often – but it was a novelty for the kids and they enjoyed that day 🙂

By modelling the feature to all students, some students began to use it in their day to day classroom activities. We had to fill out a long survey with repetitive questions that were a bit challenging to read for some of the younger students – they were able to have the questions read aloud so they could more efficiently answer.

Some started to use it to have French texts read to them. This, in particular, is something I am looking forward to encouraging more as my beginning French readers have trouble sounding out unfamiliar French words, often relying on their English phonemic knowledge, which doesn’t work well in French. If they can instead have the computer read unfamiliar words to them, it could help develop better pronunciation.

Any mac computer has this feature included already, but you do have to turn it on to be able to start to use it.

Activating Text-to-Speech

1. Click on the system preferences icon in the dock:

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2. Click the dictation & speech icon (near the bottom, looks like a microphone):

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3. Toggle to the text-to-speech options by clicking the button at the top:

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4. Check off the “speak selected text when the key is pressed” box:

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That’s it! Text to speech is now on. Any text you can highlight can now be read aloud to you by holding down the command button and then touching Q. 

Customizing Text-to-Speech

System Voice

Alex is the default system voice (and is quite natural sounding); however, you can change to other voices. Alex only reads English. To have French read, from the dictation and speech window in system preferences, click the system voice drop-down menu, then click customize:

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Scroll down to French, then check off the voices you would like to download. You can preview what they sound like buy clicking on them, then clicking the Play button in the bottom left. Once you have finished selecting, click OK to begin the download. 

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Speaking Rate

Change how slowly or quickly the voice speaks with the speaking rate slider. Click on “Play” to preview.

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For a voice that will be reading in a foreign language, it’s often helpful to slow it down so it is more easily understood by beginners.

Using Text-to-Speech in Pages

Pages is the mac equivalent to Microsoft Word and is often used to create documents. For some reason (perhaps because the app already has so many keyboard shortcuts), you need to use text-to-speech slightly differently in this program.

To have something read, click on the edit menu, then go to speech, then to start speaking:

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