Which is the Best Voice for Text-to-Speech?

Written by Suzanne Feit

How do you learn? Are you an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? Do you take advantage of close captioning? There are many factors to learning. Within any inclusive classroom there are students who learn and process information very differently. How can we meet the needs of all learners?

            Research studies have explored the efficacy of text-to-speech. They have found that students who take advantage of the text-to-speech strategy are more confident in their learning and are more likely to pursue higher education1. They have also found that these text-to-speech programs are most effective when they promote independence by providing features that help the struggling reader access text and can easily be customized to meet the specific needs of the reader. The most successful text-to-speech programs introduce this strategy at an early age, before the student has struggled and experienced failure.

Up until 3rd grade, students are taught to read. After 3rd grade, the content is more complex and students read to learn. What happens to our students who understand but canít independently read the text? The way people process text can range from just reading to just listening. In between these two approaches are many variables. Educational technology, such as Kurzweil 3000, allows the student to choose the method that best meets his/her needs. It can read out loud using a variety of voices, it can read at various speeds and has the ability to group text into sentences, paragraphs, words or even read just the highlighted text. Kurzweil can help your students not only have access to the text, but also give them easy ways to customize that access. If the student doesnít know the meaning of a word, a definition can be read out loud. If the student is writing and needs support, there are options like listening to a list of synonyms. Kurzweil 3000 users can now choose from a variety of Acapela voices. They should select the voice that is best. Do you know which voice is best? The answer is simple, the one that the student prefers!

Kurzweil 3000 has over 25 Acapela voices, which current customers can install through the latest update. Each voice is different and can interpret and read content with meaning and emotion. The voices are grouped into North and South American, European and non-US voices. Within each set of voices there is often a choice of male or female. Using natural sounding, high-quality text-to-speech voices, Kurzweil 3000 enables students to access text that is at or even beyond their independent reading proficiency. As a result, English Language Learners and students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, are able to read at a higher level than they could independently and achieve success alongside their peers.      

Are You Reading to Your Students?

We often visit classrooms and hear that teachers are reading the textbooks and tests to their students with print disabilities. Teachers who read out loud often read at about 140 words per minute. Is this the way you read? In reality, when proficient readers read text silently, they often read a complex passage more slowly than they would when reading out loud, or they go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph several times until they understand the content. When an aide or teacher is reading text to the student, it is very rare that the student will ask the aide or teacher to re-read the sentence or define a word. When we visit the classroom of today, we see many students from different nationalities. Sometimes the local pronunciation or inflection by the reader can also cause a misunderstanding by the student.

By using the Acapela voices in Kurzweil 3000, the student can access the same voice and pacing wherever they are; whether they are in the classroom, the library, or at home. In addition, when the text or definitions are in another language, there are voices that read in that language with the correct pronunciation. Those same voices are also used when items are translated using the Translate button in Kurzweil 3000.

When asking Kurzweil 3000 users how they decide which voice is their favorite, I frequently hear they choose a female voice when their teacher is a woman or a male voice when their teacher is a man. Sometimes, they just choose a voice in the range that sounds best to them. They might also choose to slow down the reading speed if the content is more complex, or speed it up if they are reading relatively simple content. Some students even use different voices for different subjects to help with recollection.

Installing the Acapela Voices

When you install or update to Kurzweil 3000, be sure to follow the instructions to also download ALL the wonderful Acapela voices that are only available with the latest version of Kurzweil 3000. The voices are FREE and the human-like voices really enhance text access and the reading experience for your students. They also give you the simple option of choosing the voice that's best for your student.

1 Text-to-Speech Use to Improve Reading of High School Struggling Students


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