Read the Words

by Tim Cushman

Read the Words is a fabulous, FREE web service for converting text into speech. Instantly, many teachers will think of using this site for their special education and non-English speaking students. I would argue that the applications for this web tool is far wider.

Think about the flow of the normal school day. Hectic? How about making more of your teacher notes or other handouts available as an audio recording instead of paper handouts (be mindful of copyright)? Creating a digital reading and distributing the file to your class takes less time then running photocopies and saves precious school resources.

Read the Words has potential for some unique student projects. For example, you might want to translate student writing pieces to an “audiobook” that could be posted on your classroom web site with different voices for each character. The audio file could add some extra flair to traditional projects like Interactive PowerPoint to relay information or give directions.

Read the Words is a singularly-purposed app that does its job well. You can copy and paste text to the site or upload a PDF, Word doc, HTML file, RSS feed, or website address. Read the Words will convert the text into an MP3 file that can be loaded on your iPod or MP3 player as well as giving you a URL for embedding the audio file into a website. Don’t worry about losing your recordings. All conversions will be saved for your exclusive use on the Read the Words website under the “My Recordings” tab.

It only gets better. Read the Words will read in English, Spanish, and French in fifteen different voice and at a user-controlled speed. Worried about conversion speed? Read the Words will convert an hour’s worth of audio in literally 60 seconds. Trouble with mispronounced text in your recording? Type the problem words phonetically.

Text to speech technology has a mixed history – mostly disappointing. I admit that the voice quality from Read the Words aspires to be at the level of KITT from the old Knight Rider series, but that is not exactly an equitable comparison since KITT had an actor doing voice-over AND David Hasselhoff riding in the driver’s seat. Try it out for yourself. I used Read the Words to convert this post to speech.  However, I could not get the code to work properly within WordPress (and yes, I did follow the directions).  Read the Words was very fast in converting this post to MP3, with a processing time of exactly four seconds.

What are your ideas and experiences with Read the Words?