Thursday, October 9, 2008

Using Spanish Voices for Text to Speech

Yesterday I worked with an assistant in a classroom that was scanning a childrens book in spanish to use with a student learning spanish. We scanned several pages as text files and put them into Wordpad.
Once we had 4 pages of text, we highlighted it and copy/pasted it into the Natural Reader free download player. The reader read the text but it was an English voice and so the pronunciations were all wrong. Since the assistant was Hispanic, she got a kick out of the wrong pronunciation but was visibly disappointed because she had done all this work in trying to scan and build the e text into an audio book.
"I read it and recorded it at home with a microphone on our computer." she said.
What a novel idea! (I am just kidding) but she is right - after I showed her how to scan a book, paste the text into a reader, record it and convert it to an Mp3, we are back to just reading and recording it. I am partially responsible for her disappointment because I hadn't thought about the spanish issue in pronunciation. I know now.
Natural Reader has a set of voices for $49.95 that have 2 great English voices, 1 French and 1 Spanish as well as some others. Premier Literacy has a voice selection menu with a Cepstral Spanish voice. Since the school I am working with on this project is applying for the grant from Premier Literacy to get their software package, they are waiting to use the Spanish voice on it instead of buying the Natural Reader package.
The lesson learned in this is that I can get in a "geek mode" and start doing all kinds of converting and cool tricks and forget the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) motto. I know that everyone always has the option to just read and record a chapter, but there is some kind of power we exercise when we can scan our own textbook, paste the text into a reader and see it read and hear it as well. Having an Mp3 of it to listen to "on the go" is also a great option for students. I want to empower them to be able to do this for themselves.
The assistant I am working with is still looking forward to being in charge of making Mp3's and working on accessible text for those students that need it. She is also going to help students learn how to do this for themselves once she has got it down. I just thought I would share my thoughts on this with you and what it meant to me today.
I would value your comments - what do you think? Is it overkill to skip the Mp3 download off a blog because of copyright concerns and use the Audacity tool or should we just hook up a microphone to the computer and start recording while we read to save time and trouble?
Let's hear your thoughts.

All the best to you!


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Ant said...

Hi Lon,
We formatted some material for Spanish and Italian and using, I think, the Natural voices. The benefit in scanning the text is that you have an electronic version of it that can then be made available to other students down the track who may use material in different ways, such as printing off a Braille version.
So don't despair for having scanned and then falling back on the good ol' fashioned recording. You've kind of future-proofed the text.
MP3 downloads on a blog are nifty, but if it's the Odiogo tool you're referring to, that's just acting like a screen reader and analysing the text components. Most people who read blogs and need audio assistance, probably already have that adaptive technology set up. That said, Odiogo does provide an option, which means the blog is leaning towards flexibility, which is a key factor for accessibility.
Any other time you're worried about copyright, while I advocate supporting the author, it's likely to be the publisher that will go after someone and for them it's simply about money. I think your Section 508 should work to some degree because all books should be made from now on with an electronic alternative readily available, even if it's to be purchased.
Just some thoughts in response.

Lon said...

Thanks for the good information and advice. Great thoughts. I know there is benefit and I we will continue to push ahead...