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Scottish Computer Voices and Microsoft Immersive Reader

by Paul Nisbet

on Mon Mar 18, 2019

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With Learning Tools and Immersive Reader, Microsoft Office 365 has some really good features for supporting reading, but there's some confusion about whether and how you can use the free Scottish computer voices - here's my understanding of the situation.

Background

We think it's really important that learners have the option to use a computer voice with a local accent, and to have a choice of male as well as female voices. (Mind you, we don't have any research to back this up - we get feedback that learners and staff like the Scottish voices because they are more familiar and because it's helpful to hear the computer or device reading with a Scottish accent and intonation - but we have no evidence that accessing text with the Scottish voices leads to improved comprehension or engagement compared with, say, English or American accents.)

The original reason for licencing the Scottish Heather voice was because our research into Digital examination papers in 2005 found that learners were not enthusiastic about the computer voices that were available on their computers (Nisbet, 2012). At the time, there were very few options and most computers in schools ran Microsoft Windows and offered a choice of Microsoft Sam or Mary, both of which had American accents and were much more robotic compared to today's voices.

However, Heather was very well received and was followed by Stuart, the world's first male Scottish computer voice, in 2011 and then Ceitidh, the world's first Scottish Gaelic voice, in 2015. The voices are created by CereProc and are available for Windows and MacOS from CALL's Scottish Voice web site for use by learners in school, further and higher education in Scotland, and by NHS patients. (You can buy the voices for your Android device from the Google Play Store for 59p each; for iPad the situation is more complex because Apple hasn't licenced the voices yet and they have to be built into each app by the app developers, which hasn't happened.)

Microsoft Office Immersive Reader and Learning Tools

  • Immersive Reader is part of Microsoft Learning Tools and is designed to improve reading support for learners with literacy difficulties, such as dyslexia. It's free and built in to Office 2016.
  • The Windows versions of the Scottish voices are 'SAPI 5' types, which was the standard type to Windows 7. Most text to speech programs still use SAPI 5 voices.
  • If your computer has the free Scottish Computer voices - Heather and Stuart - or the Gaelic voice Ceitidh installed, then most text readers can use the voices. For example, ClaroRead 7, Clicker 7, iVona MiniReader,  NaturalReader, Orato, Read&Write can all use the Scottish voices.
  • Windows 10 introduced a new bunch of voices (which aren't SAPI 5) and it seems that Immersive Reader uses the new voices rather than the SAPI 5 voices.
  • Immersive Reader on the desktop version of Word 2016 / 365 offers the new Windows 10 voices, which on my PC are George, Susan or Hazel - the SAPI 5 voices like Heather etc aren't listed.

  • What to do if you want the Scottish voices? If you set the default computer voice on the PC to be Heather or Stuart or any other SAPI 5 voice (you must do this in the OLD Text to Speech control panel, NOT the new Windows 10 one. You get to it here: (Start > Windows System > Control Panels > Speech Recognition > Text to Speech)), you can use the Scottish voice to read with the Speak Button in Word or OneNote 2016 desktop versions.
  • What is the Speak button, I hear you ask? It's a hidden gem of a text reader in Office. It still uses the old SAPI 5 voices. The Speak button doesn't have the options for easily adjusting the font spacing or syllables, but you can use it to read from ordinary Word documents, or to read in OneNote or PowerPoint.
  • Also, if you set the default voice on the computer to be e.g. Heather, I find that Immersive Reader in OneNote 2016 DOES use it to read - although the voice list is blank. Weird.

  • But unfortunately this doesn't apply for Word 2016, as we said above - you only get offered the Windows 10 voices.
  • And in the online versions of O365 you just get offered male or female (very) English accents because the text to speech is done online and doesn't use the voice on your computer at all.

So the solution if you want tae speak Scottish in Office 2016:

  • Use the Speak button or another SAPI 5 text reader. The general purpose text readers like Ivona or Orato can read anything - PDFs, from the internet as well.

It would be helpful if Microsoft:

  • licenced and provided Scottish accents from CereProc and/or:
  • sorted out Immersive Reader so it can use SAPI 5 as well as Windows 10 voices.

Scottish Child Voices

PS We're currently testing two new Scottish Child voices - Andrew and Mairi - which are primarily for children to use in communication aids and they will be available pretty soon. They will be licenced for Scottish schools as well, and are SAPI 5. They sound good for reading text and especially for use in e.g. Clicker 7.

Other accents

CereProc create high quality voices with many different UK accents and in many different languages. Glaswegians might be interested in Dodo - we've not licenced him as yet...

 

 

Nisbet, P. (2012) 'Accessible digital assessments for students with disabilities: Specification, formats and implementation in schools', Journal of Assistive Technologies, 6(2). doi: 10.1108/17549451211234984

Tags: scottish voice

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