First things first: what is TTS? TTS or Text-to-Speech technology converts text into spoken speech. If you know Siri or those handy voice GPS directions on smartphones, then congratulations! You’re already acquainted with TTS.
Since 1000 AD, humans have strived to create synthetic speech, but it didn’t enter the mainstream until the mid 1970s – early 1980s when computer operating systems began implementing it. Walt Tetschner, leader of the group that produced DECtalk in 1983, explains that while the voice wasn’t perfect, it was still natural sounding and was used by companies such as MCI and Mtel (two-way paging). Not to mention Stephen Hawking, who uses DECtalk for his voice!
Through the efforts of voice actors, linguists, engineers and more, natural-sounding synthetized speech is brought to life. In fact, as TTS becomes easier and clearer to understand, many more people have adopted TTS. Which bring us to the subject of this article…
Who uses TTS?
People with visual and reading impairments were the early adopters of TTS. It makes sense: TTS eases the internet experience for the 1 out of 5 people who have dyslexia, low literacy readers and others with learning disabilities by removing the stress of reading and presenting information in an optimal format.
We’re progressing toward a more accessible Internet of the future. Already, many forward-minded content owners and publishers offer TTS solutions to make the web a place for all. Businesses and buildings are required to provide entryways for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility – shouldn’t the Internet be accessible for everyone, too?
Yet, as technology evolves, so have the uses and the users of TTS. You may not need TTS, but you’ll certainly want it! TTS can make life easier and make you more efficient.
The teaching style, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), follows in the same vein to help all learners be successful. Teachers of all grade levels who promote UDL use a combination of auditory, visual and kinesthetic techniques through the use of technology and adaptable lesson plans. Another useful way to use TTS in the classroom is for proofreading.
Even if you identify as a kinesthetic or visual learner, science says adding an auditory method may help you retain information. Who would say no to that?
Readers on the Go
If you’re like me, you may wish there were more hours in a day. When I want to catch up on the news, podcasts and audiobooks only take me so far. So, if there’s an in-depth profile in The New Yorker or a longform article from The Guardian that I want to read, TTS recites it for me – freeing me up to drive, exercise or clean at the same time. Or you may just prefer listening to reading. According to leading experts in technology, online content will soon be automatically converted to audio so that more people can enjoy content on the go.
The life shortcuts TTS can provide are endless – from reading recipes while you cook to dictating instruction manuals when assembling furniture. The only limit to how much it can help is your own imagination!
My grandmother has avoided upgrading from her first mobile – a flip phone circa 2004. Understandably, she wants to avoid straining her eyes from all the small text. TTS can alleviate this issue for her (and others) and introduce her to smartphones and the wonderful world of emoji (no TTS necessary).
Visually impaired readers
It’s not simply seniors who want to avoid straining their eyes on screens. Many people have mild visual impairments or suffer from sensitivity to light. As someone with chronic migraines, I count myself in this category. Thanks to TTS, I can be more productive on days when staring at screens seems like a pain too much to bear. In fact, medical studies advise that exposure to light at night, particularly blue light from screens, has adverse health effects. It not only disrupts our biological clocks, but it may increase cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity rates. TTS offers users a safer way to take in text.
Foreign Language Students
Studies show that listening to a different language aids students in learning the new dialect. TTS can help with that. ReadSpeaker is an international TTS software company, featuring over 50 languages and more than 150 voices. Their voices derive from native speakers. With ReadSpeaker, foreign language students can get a feel for pronunciation, cadence and more. One feature that’s especially helpful in this regard is the ability to have words highlighted as they’re read aloud. With this feature, students can feel confident in their pronunciation of new vocabulary.
New generations raised in multilingual households may understand their (grand)parent’s language, but they may not feel fluent enough to read, write or speak it. This is common in many communities, where the home language is not studied in school. For second and third generations who want to maintain or strengthen their bonds to their mother lands, ReadSpeaker can make articles, newspapers, and other literature accessible and understandable through speech.
Those with Severe Speech Impairments
A speech-generating device (SGD), which is also known as a voice output communication aid (VOCA), can be used for those who have severe speech impairments and who would otherwise not be able to communicate verbally. Grouped under the term “augmentative and alternative communication (AAC),” SGDs and VOCAs can now be integrated into mobile devices such as smartphones. Stephen Hawking, who suffers from ALS, and also renowned film critic Roger Ebert, are among the most well-known users of SGDs using TTS technology.
So, who uses TTS? Many people, for many different reasons! TTS has boundless benefits for its users, and if you’re not one of them, you could be!
Article written in collaboration with writer Mira Barnum.