Important disclaimer: I received a free review copy of TextAloud for the purpose of writing this review, but the links to purchase TextAloud are not affiliate links and I do not receive any commission from TextAloud.
How is text-to-speech useful?
Brief overview for those who aren’t familiar with text-to-speech. If you enjoy having things read to you because you get sick of reading, or if (like me) you have a major problem with proofreading your own work because you skim over the errors–but you hear those errors when the text is read to you–I highly recommend experimenting with text to speech, where the computer reads a designated piece of text to you.
The simple solution is to use the Read Aloud function in MS Word. It’s under the Review menu. But Read Aloud is pretty basic: at least in my version of MS Office, the only selections you can make are the voice (between two men and a woman–I’m partial to David!) and the reading speed. Read Aloud also has some small but annoying foibles–the one that drives me nuts is that if you click anywhere in any MS Word document while Read Aloud is running, it pauses. So, if you have the source and target Word documents open, and you want to scroll down in the source while the target is being read to you (so that you can follow along), Read Aloud pauses as soon as you click, and then you have to re-start it.
What does TextAloud do?
TextAloud costs US $34.95 and comes with a 30-day guarantee. There’s also a free trial. It’s easy to download, and you can choose what software you want it to integrate with. For example whether you want just the standalone tool (where you can import things for it to read), an MS Word toolbar, a browser plugin, etc. I installed the standalone version, the MS Word toolbar, and the Firefox plugin. With my complimentary version, I got to choose four voices, and I chose two English and two French. I watched a couple of the tutorial videos for an overview of how to use all of the flavors of the tool. In total, it took me less than 30 minutes to download and install the software and watch the videos.
TextAloud’s basic features within MS Word are pretty similar to Read Aloud’s, but with many more customization options. You can tell the software how long to pause after a sentence, a comma, between words in a sentence, and so on. You can have it read certain types of text (i.e. text in quotes, or text in parentheses) in a different voice. You can have it highlight the current word, sentence, or paragraph, and so on. Tons of ways to customize how the software works.
And…drumroll…TextAloud does not do the annoying thing of pausing when you click elsewhere in a document. It just keeps on reading, which is what I wanted it to do!
Using TextAloud outside of MS Word
Another huge difference between TextAloud and Read Aloud is the ability to read other types of documents, such as PDFs and web pages. You can load a PDF into the standalone TextAloud window and have it read to you, or you can install a browser plugin so that TextAloud will read web pages to you. I found this very cool: sometimes I just want a break from staring at my screen, or I want to take a break but also consume some information. For example, I had it read me a New York Times article while I was eating lunch. I also tested it with a book in PDF format, and it performed well on that as well.
One feature I didn’t try–but that seems really useful for certain purposes–is exporting your spoken files for later use. For example, you could run TextAloud on an article, but save the file to your phone, and listen to it while you’re driving. As luck would have it, I had a part-time job in college, recording audio versions of college textbooks for dyslexic students who struggled to keep up with their classes if they had to read the print versions. Back in the 1990s, this was arduous for those students. TextAloud seems like an incredibly helpful solution for this kind of thing.
Another great use of TextAloud: having it read your own blog posts before you publish them. I rarely do this because it used to involve copying the posts into MS Word, then making any changes in the WordPress interface. But since installing TextAloud, I’ve used it multiple times to proof my own blog posts and e-newsletters right in the browser, which I found really helpful and will continue to do.
TextAloud has tons of voices to choose from; some are included with the basic software and some are premium. I must have a relatively high tolerance for computerized voices, because the MS Word voices really don’t bother me. I find that the slightly robotic tone is actually helpful, because it’s just annoying enough that you aren’t lulled to sleep while you’re listening to it. However I do find the TextAloud voices pleasant to listen to, and they’re a big plus if you’re actually listening for pleasure, rather than just to catch errors.
My preferred TextAloud voice is Ava22 (I used her to proof this blog post). And, to be fair, she’s MUCH more expressive than Microsoft David!
Premium voices, and supported languages
This is an addendum to the original post: I should clarify that the base price of TextAloud includes only the default Microsoft voices, and the TextAloud interface and help files are available only in English. However, you can purchase premium voices for 29 languages, and with different regional accents (i.e. Scottish English). The voices range in price (most of the non-English voices are $45 each), and you can sample them before you buy.
To sum up
If you’re into text-to-speech on any serious level (either for proofreading or for actually reading), TextAloud seems well worth the investment of $35. I found that when I was audio-proofreading (prooflistening?) for long periods of time, the ability to switch voices was really helpful, and I liked the ability to customize the software’s pausing and pronunciation patterns. It’s also great to have web articles or PDFs read to you when you don’t feel like reading the print version. I see this software as being really helpful to translators–and other word people–and really, really helpful if you struggle with dyslexia or any other issue that interferes with your reading speed or accuracy. Bonus: you could also use it to practice simultaneous interpreting at various speeds, since you can speed up or slow down the reader very easily.
I plan to continue using TextAloud to proof my translations, blog posts, and e-newsletters, and thanks to the company for providing a free review copy!