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Free Text to Speech Options for the Mac

by Allan Wilson

on Tue Mar 23, 2010

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We are often asked if there is an Apple Macintosh version of WordTalk, the free text-to-speech add-on for Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, there isn't, and, due to differences in the way that PCs and Macs handle sound, there is unlikely to be a Mac version.

There are a number of free text-to-speech options for Mac users:

  • The Mac operating system has a reasonable text-to-speech system built in. To use it, go to System Preferences - Speech - Text to Speech. Choose a voice and a key combination to speak selected text. Then just highlight text in any program and press the key combination. It doesn't highlight text word by word as it is read out, or do anything fancy, but it works pretty well and Mac voices are generally quite good.
  • Screenshot of Type It, Read ITTypeItReadIt is a free program, aimed primarily at people with a visual impairment, but it can be used more generally by people who want to hear text read out. Unlike the Mac's built-in system, TypeIt ReadIt does not read text directly from an application on the screen. Instead, you have to copy text from your application and paste it into the TypeIt ReadIt window. You can also Open a plain text file and have the contents read out. Note that if you are using a Word file, you will have to save it as plain text to open and read the file. TypeIt ReadIt has options to change the colour scheme and the size of text displayed. Unfortunately, the actual font it uses cannot be changed from Times, which will not suit many of the people who may want to use the program. Earlier versions of the program highlighted words as they were spoken, but this feature has been removed from Version 1.5 as it slowed the program down. This makes little difference for people with a visual impairment, but can make it more difficult for people with reading difficulties to see where they are in a document. There is a reasonable spell checker, but, surprisingly, this does not allow the possible word choices to be read out. One very useful feature is the facility to create sound files (in AIFF format), which can be played in iTunes.
  • Screenshot of Natural ReaderNaturalReader has a free version for the Mac, which will read text directly from almost any application, including Word, web browsers and PDF files. Simply select the text you want to read and it will be transferred to the NaturalReader MiniBoard for reading. Words are highlighted as they are read and the colour of the text is then changed, making it easy to see where you are in your text. Unlike many 'demo' versions of programs, the free version of NaturalReader can be used for as long as you want, but there are a few restrictions, compared with the full program. Firstly, it does not come with a 'voice'. This is not a great problem as there are perfectly satisfactory voices within the Mac operating system. Schools in Scotland can also make free use of the Mac version of The Scottish Voice, Heather. There is also a restriction of 5,000 characters on the length of any document to be read by NaturalReader. Most importantly, the facility to make sound files has been disabled in the free version. If this is an important feature for you, either use TypeIt ReadIt, or get the Personal Version, costing $49.50.

If you require more features than are provided in the free programs, you will have to pay for the extra facilities provided by programs such as the Personal Version of NaturalReader or GhostReader.

Tags: text-to-speech, Apple Mac

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