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Text to Speech: Your Own Language Slave

TTS or Text To Speech is the process of converting any written text to spoken speech by way of a computer.   In the past the quality of these text to speech tools was pretty bad.  It would sound like robots were talking to you instead of humans.  However, a lot of progress has been made in the last few years.  To give you an idea, I’ve compiled this text to speech video comparison.  Some of you may be familiar with the text I used for this comparison.

If you are wondering why I didn’t include the whole Braveheart “Freedom” speech from the movie it’s because some of the tested tools have word or character limits so I couldn’t fit all the text in.  Either way, it’s pretty fun to see how far the technology has come along.  In the video this is what was demonstrated:

  1. Mac OSX Speech Bruce voice
  2. Oddcast.com Daniel (UK) Voice
  3. Oddcast.com Charles (UK) Voice
  4. acapela-group.com Graham (UK) Voice
  5. acapela-group.com Peter (UK) Voice

Mac OS X Text to Speech

mac-tts

The first TTS tool you see in the video, the one with just text on the screen, is the built in Mac OSX text to speech tool.  If you didn’t know, all Macs have the ability to convert text to spoken speech.  However, as you can tell the quality is not that good.  Also, as of now the Mac TTS only speaks English, so for people learning languages other than English it’s not really a good tool other than to amuse your friends.

Oddcast Text to Speech

oddcast-tts

The second TTS tool is from a company called Oddcast.  They are an interesting company that on top of TTS also have different applications that allow you to do various stuff with media (like upload your picture onto a potato and animate it).  What’s unique about Oddcast is that they have an animated avatar (character) that mouths the words as it speaks.  This provides even more amusement than just hearing the text alone.  The speaking on it is much better especially compared with Mac TTS.  It has over 20 languages (Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, etc…) with over 60 different voices to choose from.   English alone has American, UK, Australian, Irish, and Indian voices.  If try it out you’ll notice that the avatar’s head will follow your mouse around as you move it.  It’s kind of freaky.

Acapela Group TTS

acapela-tts

The final demo in the video was Acapela Group’s TTS tool.  Out of all the tools compared here I would say this is the best in terms of quality.  The speaking is pretty realistic and it’s very straightforward to use.  You don’t get the talking heads, as many languages, or the variety of voices, but in terms of sound quality it’s scary how realistic it is.  In terms of languages they cover 25 languages with over 50 voices.  The only drawback is that they don’t do Asian languages, but they do include the other popular languages like French, German, Spanish, etc…

TTS in Foreign Language Learning

The text to speech tools comparison I showed above was using English, but what about speaking other foreign languages?   From my experimenting with French and Spanish using Acapela’s TTS I can say it sounds pretty good as well, however you have to take what I say with a grain of salt since I’m a native English speaker and have very little French and Spanish skills.  The best way is for you to evaluate for yourself:

Bottom line, I definitely would reccommend using either the Oddcast or Acapela TTS tools in your foreign language study program.  First of all it’s FREE.  Second of all, it’s very convenient having a tool that can speak any phrase or words you come across, especially more so if you are a beginner who is still grappling with pronuncation for a new language  It’s like having a native speaker in your pocket that you can pull out and force it to say whatever you want, whenever you want.  Oh yeah, and it’s FREE!

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