Software highlights: Text-to-Speech Readers

Natural Voice Reader
This is a great text-to-speech reader.  It will read directly from a web page, Word document, PDFs, etc.  All you have to do is to highlight text and right-click to cue it to read (or you could paste it into the program itself, but that's an extra step).

It could use a little more work (alternatively, you could pay for the extras), but it does the job.  The free version comes with a couple voices, but there are more available if you decide to upgrade.  This version allows you to control the speed of the playback.

You can save the text to a wave file.  I have found this convenient for loading it only my mp3 player (the software I have converts it automatically).  In addition to the advantage of an mp3 player, I also use a pair of cordless headphones plugged into my computer to have the program read news articles and web pages to me while I'm working around the house.  This is great if I'm just doing menial stuff like laundry or yardwork.  It's a great way to study as well, if you type up your notes or there are electronic copies available.

The voices take a little getting used to.  They don't sound like the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica, but they are still somewhat robotic.  Also, there is a degree of subjectivity in any reading (e.g., the program doesn't always know the difference between "live" and "live"... see what I mean?).

The software is sometimes smarter than it needs to be.  For example, I often use it to read research articles that feature data in the form of mean +/- standard error.  To me, SE = "standard error," but the software will go with the majority and assume it to me South East, which is what it says.  Sometimes that's good, sometimes not.  Acronyms sometimes give it fits, as do most foreign words and some proper names.

All that being said, the benefits are worth the trouble.


This program is similar to the above in terms of function.  There are less bells and whistles, but there are also fewer quirks.  I actually prefer this program to Natural Voice Reader, even though the voices sound almost if not exactly identical.



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