Many operating systems have wonderful text-to-speech features included by default—ironically enough, this entire article revolves around this feature. Long forgotten and unused, it is now an important part of my work flow. I only began exploring this feature around a month and a half ago on my Mac OS X Leopard system, and I have been using it ever since. It has saved me from having many errors that I would not have noticed otherwise. It is exactly like having someone else read your work for you, but the only difference is that it is now a computer doing it for you.
Enabling Text-to-Speech on Mac OS X
There are only a few steps required to enable text-to-speech shortcuts in Mac OS X Leopard:
- Open up your system preferences.
- Under the “System” subheading, click on the “Speech” option.
- Navigate to the “Text to Speech” tab.
- Enable the check-box for “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.”
- Click on “Set Key” to open up a dialog box that will allow you to set a key combination to set when you want to have your computer read the text. (I have it activate when the Shift key, Option key, Control key, and ‘S’ key are all depressed.)
After you have done all those steps, try selecting any text on your screen, and press the key combination to see if it works. You should know before you attempt this that text-to-speech synthesis requires a decent system to operate correctly. Apparently it uses up a lot of memory and CPU cycles to calculate the process. Keep this in mind.
An Alternative Method
If you want a different way to access this feature, you could try selecting some text, navigate to the “Edit” menu, and then scroll down to the “Speech” item, and, finally, select “Start Speaking”. However, this method only works in applications that display the “Speech” item under the edit menu. For example, Firefox does not have this menu, but you can still press they key combination set (as explained above) to have the computer read the text back to you.
It’s Not Perfect
Now, I will be the first to admit that it is not a flawless solution. There are times when that monotonous voice will put you to sleep, but I have been fairly impressed overall. The default voice, Alex, works the best for me, but you should try the alternative voices to see if they work better for you.
I would really urge any of you who have a Mac computer to utilize this feature. It might sound silly, but it really does work, and I’m not afraid to state that I use it on a regular basis to help me ensure that my posts are of great reading quality.
Using Something Else?
For those of you on Windows and Linux operating systems, you are in luck. Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Linux have text-to-speech solutions available. I can’t comment on any of these methods for Windows or Linux, but I am sure they work just as well.
Have you tried this before? Are you willing to incorporate this into your work flow? Do the voices sound too weird? Let me know in the comments section!