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Second Language Learning: How Text to Speech Can Help

Looking for digital tools to help students succeed with second language learning? Find out why text to speech (TTS) is what you need.

August 1, 2023 by Amy Foxwell
Second Language Learning: How Text to Speech Can Help

It’s not easy to learn a second language, especially as an adult. One study found that our ability to learn a new language’s grammar starts to decline around age 17. But educators can help people achieve their multilingual dreams at virtually any age—and edtech helps make it possible.

Text to speech (TTS) is one such tool. This digital technology reads written texts out loud, via any digital device. For reasons we’ll explore in detail, TTS is a valuable resource for language teachers and their students.

By contributing to more effective language instruction, TTS can even accelerate majority-language acquisition for migrants, refugees, and anyone raised with an underrepresented tongue. In other words, TTS edtech contributes to greater inclusion both in and out of the classroom.

But how exactly does TTS support language education? We asked a panel of innovative educators to find out. Here’s how these language teachers use TTS to help their students succeed—and how you can do the same.

5 Ways TTS Supports Second Language Learning

“All language learners require exposure and repetition, and TTS technology supplies both in a controlled, personalized way,” said Carolyn Knight, ESL teacher and creator of language-learning game WordTap.

To unlock the language-learning benefits of this technology, however, it’s essential to use TTS tools that provide accurate pronunciation in your target language. As a global voice specialist and 20-year leader in TTS technology, ReadSpeaker delivers lifelike voices with the pronunciation of a native speaker—as well as custom pronunciation dictionaries to ensure the perfect resource. We offer voices in more than 50 languages, many with multiple accents and dialects.

TTS is udeal for second language learning because...

Text-to-speech is ideal for language education because:

1. TTS offers an unlimited supply of audible examples of correct pronunciation

“Text to speech can and will improve pronunciation,” said Tanner Bonebrake, CEO of Second Language Strategies LLC. “I advise my students to use text to speech with words or phrases with which they habitually struggle.”

With ReadSpeaker webReader, students can listen to any online text, from learning materials you provide to original sources in your target language. With ReadSpeaker TextAid, you can add TTS and other language tools to your learning management system (LMS). Either way, TTS gives students the ability to train pronunciation on their own, listening to accurate words and phrases as many times as they need to.

“Since it can repeat phrases as many times as needed, TTS can act as a teacher in your pocket, always there to aid in the reinforcement of vocabulary and phrases,” Knight said.

The element of repetition is particularly helpful in improving pronunciation, said the teachers we spoke to.

“I have used text to speech with every student I have worked with in the past nine months, and all of them have improved their accents,” Bonebrake said.

Interested in ReadSpeaker’s text-to-speech technology?

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2. TTS provides opportunities for solo conversation practice.

“To improve pronunciation, there are two important steps,” said Gabriel Gelman, founder of Spring Languages. “First, listening to a lot of native speakers. Second, practicing speaking. With TTS, learners can hold conversations with a machine, to a degree, and they’re not dependent on teachers or conversation partners.”

Traditionally, digital conversation practice required teachers to write out one side of a conversation in the target language, using TTS to bring it to life. However, with the rise of generative artificial intelligence, students can now carry on original conversations in any language they choose.

“AI models like ChatGPT allow you to practice conversations in a foreign language—and TTS allows these conversations to be spoken,” Gelman said.

The dilemma of how to practice speaking a language is solved using a combination of AI and TTS.

3. TTS helps students bridge the gap between aural and written language.

Understanding speech is one skill. Reading is another. When you’re learning an entirely new language, it’s often difficult to connect the written and spoken forms of a word, sentence, or phrase. Text to speech can help make these connections, strengthening the student’s grasp of vocabulary and grammar—and providing an auditory way to check written work.

“I used TTS in my classroom to check writing, asking students to use it to see if their writing sounded correct before they submitted it,” said Ashley Landes, a principal in the Renton School District, former Spanish teacher, and recipient of the Washington Foreign Language Teachers Public Awareness Award.

On a related note, some students learn best by hearing; others by reading. Still others learn best while reading and listening at the same time. Text to speech supports this form of bimodal learning.

“With TTS, students can see the text and hear it pronounced as they read along,” said Troy Portillo, director of operations at online learning platform Studypool.

“Text to speech is an easy way to learn how words are pronounced as well as spelled, all at once,” Portillo said.

4. With multiple voices in a single language, TTS can help students become familiar with a variety of accents.

Outside the classroom, language students will encounter different accents and dialects. Text to speech can help prepare learners for these variables. That’s particularly important for students who plan to use new languages at work, Knight said.

“I have found that for my students working in multinational organizations, the ability to easily grasp a variety of accents is essential to their success,” Knight said. “Another use of TTS is to expose students to a variety of accents.”

ReadSpeaker offers lifelike TTS voices in a variety of languages, dialects, and accents. For example, choose between English voices with American, Australian, British, or Indian accents. Pick between American, Castilian, Columbian, or Mexican Spanish. In Portuguese, you can choose Brazilian or European styles.

Find the complete list of ReadSpeaker’s TTS languages and voices here.

5. As an accessibility tool, TTS removes barriers for second-language learners with dyslexia or learning disorders.

Learning a second language can be particularly challenging for students who already struggle with reading. Text to speech is a common form of assistive technology (AT), with a proven track record of helping students with dyslexia or other disabilities that affect reading. It works just as well in a second language as in a first—for traditional students and adult learners alike.

“I have used TTS technology to make practice texts accessible for dyslexic tech professionals learning English as a second language,” Knight said. “By turning written texts into audible content, they were able to practice the repetition of required material without the frustration often associated with their challenge.”

When students can listen rather than read, they can focus on key learning outcomes, said Knight.

“TTS technology can make the learning process more accessible by removing reading barriers, allowing students to focus on comprehension and pronunciation,” Knight said.

ReadSpeaker TTS Tools for Language Teachers

As Knight, Bonebrake, Gelman, Portillo, and Landes explained, TTS gives students a valuable self-service tool for practicing language skills. But it can also help language teachers, particularly in an era of online learning.

For example, Gelman uses TTS to provide accurate speech for Spring Languages’ education videos.

“For each of our free YouTube lessons, we create flashcards with the most important word combinations often used by native speakers,” the educator said. “We complement these flashcards with audio, which we create through TTS.”

“TTS works really well, since it allows us to create all these audio snippets very quickly and at a low cost. The quality is high, and our students use it with good results,” Gelman said.

If you’re looking for a TTS production tool to quickly add lifelike speech to online videos, choose ReadSpeaker speechMaker. If you’re looking for an all-purpose online TTS tool for second language learning, try ReadSpeaker webReader. And if you wish to bring the benefits of TTS to your LMS, go with ReadSpeaker TextAid.

TextAid is the ideal tool for practicing a new language on your own. With affordable individual subscriptions available, educators can encourage students to get their own TextAid licenses and enjoy anytime access to speech that deepens language immersion—no matter where students live, with any content and on any device.

In short, ReadSpeaker offers TTS tools to match any use case. More importantly for language educators, however, we also invest heavily in accurate pronunciation. That makes ReadSpeaker TTS the ideal digital tool for second language learning.

Ready to see how TTS can help your second language learners succeed?

Contact ReadSpeaker to learn more
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