In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the International Literacy Day on September 8th, 2016, we would like to offer our thoughts on how text to speech (TTS) can help eliminate illiteracy. At UNESCO, this milestone has made 2016 the year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes ensuring quality education and lifelong learning opportunities to everyone.

Accessibility is Relevant

Of the global illiterate population, UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that as of July 2016, 114 million are 15 to 24 years, 509 million are 25 to 64 years, and 135 million are 65 years and older.

According to the American Library Association, 1 in 6 American adults struggle with basic English literacy. That makes 36 million people between the ages of 16–65 who struggle daily to carry out basic tasks like completing a job application, understanding a medication label, or reading a bedtime story to their children.

So if parents cannot read, then their children will have to serve as their interpreters, burdening them with a huge responsibility. On top of that, they will not learn as much vocabulary within their first years of life than children with literate parents, thus stunting their intellectual and social development.

How Text to Speech Technology Can Help

Text-to-speech solutions, such as ReadSpeaker, build confidence and lifelong learning skills by helping and motivating learners of any age to read confidently. ReadSpeaker aims to combat illiteracy by offering accessible tools to create audio versions of texts on or offline. The text is highlighted as it is read using lifelike voices, making it easier for the struggling reader to follow along. This is also referred to as “bimodal presentation”. Bimodal presentation improves comprehension by presenting information in visual and audio formats at the same time. Listening to text has been shown to improve comprehension and recollection, but at the same time, can also assist those who have difficulty reading, or for those who are learning a new language. By reading along with the audio, learners gain access to information previously unattainable.

It’s impossible for us to make progress in reducing inequality, encouraging responsible consumption, or ensuring everyone lives healthy lives if people are not able to educate themselves. I see universal literacy as a starting point for advancing the entire sustainable agenda. Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy

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