Text to speech software enables you to hear text on the screen read aloud. It can be an extremely useful tool for all students, particularly those with learning difficulties. For example, you can use text to speech tools to help improve your writing. Just activate the function on your Mac or PC to listen to the text you have written. Hearing your words may help you detect and correct mistakes. It can also help with concentration and understanding, as you have typed your thoughts but hearing them read back to you may help trigger new ideas to enhance your writing. In addition to helping with the writing process, text to speech tools may also increase your understanding and retention. For example, if you are following the text (an article or book) visually as it is being read aloud, you are taking advantage of both visual and auditory senses and the two combined may enhance understanding.
Built-in text to speech tools are available on Macs as well as PCs, although the capabilities of each will vary. If you are using a Mac, visit Apple Support for instructions. If you are using a PC, see Office Support. As a Mac user, I have been able to listen to text in Microsoft Word as well as text on web pages and PDF files downloaded and opened in iBooks and Preview. Additionally, the Adobe Read Out Loud tool allows you to listen to PDFs in Adobe Reader. For easy instructions on how to set this up, see pages 3 to 6 of Accessing PDF Documents with Assistive Technology. While listening, you can always pause the voice and add digital sticky notes in the margins and highlight text within iBooks, Preview and PDFs in Adobe Reader. This will be helpful if you plan to summarize the text or incorporate it along with your ideas into another writing assignment.
Text to speech functionality is also a great feature to use with the iPad and iPhone. Listening to documents on a mobile device is a perfect way for busy students to take advantage of time spent traveling on trains or busses or even just waiting in a queue. Again, it is easy to set up. Just choose “Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech” and select “Speak Selection” if you want to select particular texts to be read back to you. This works well with web pages, text messages, and emails. However, selecting the text takes some practice, as it can be a bit tricky. When you press a particular word on the screen with your finger or a stylus, a magnifier appears and the word you selected is highlighted with a selector on each side. Drag the selector across any additional words or paragraphs you would like to have read aloud, then press the speak button above the highlighted text.
I would recommend using a third party app for utilizing text to speech on your iPhone or iPad. I have used Voice Dream Reader with good results but there are a number of free and fee-based apps available through the app store and you will want to experiment until you find one that is right for you. If you have learning difficulties or other disabilities, do check with the Disability Office at your university, as you may be eligible for tools which are covered by the Student Disability Allowance (DSA).