Text to Speech: Is it the Right Option for Your Course?

I recently used a text to speech program to create the audio for a course. As I’ve discuss the process with colleagues, I’ve gotten several questions.

What is text to speech?

Text to speech, or speech synthesis, is the artificial production of human speech. A text to speech program can use text from such things as word processing programs, Internet sites, .pdf documents, and even scanned documents (depending on the program) and create an electronic audio file such as a .wav or .mp3 that you can use in our online courses.

Text to speech is something that has been used for years in e-learning courses – and is now even a standard feature in Adobe Captivate. The course I worked on was in Spanish, so we had to look beyond Captivate, which doesn’t offer a Spanish text to speech option, and found NaturalReader. Several other programs are also available. Click here to see some free and open source text to speech tools, brought to you by the eFront learning community.

What are some things I need to think about when considering a text to speech solution?

If you are trying to decide if text to speech is right for you, you’ll want to decide why you want to use a product like this.

  • You need the audio quickly? Then plugging the text into a program and getting the audio file in seconds might make this the right option for you. However, you’ll want to listen to all of the files to make sure the words are pronounced properly, have natural pausing, etc. – and then adjust as necessary. For example, my name hardly ever sounds the way it should when I enter it into one of these programs. I often have to change the spelling of my name in the text file (from Desirée to Desiray) and sometimes I have to add a hyphen to create a pause or correct inflection (Dez-e-ray) so it sounds natural. This takes time. If you don’t have many words in your course that are out-of-the-norm, you might find the time-savings you are after.
  • You have a limited budget? Then you can spend less than $100 and get audio for your course. However, don’t forget to count your time creating and editing these files if you are trying to find the least expensive solution for your audio needs. One benefit of a text to speech program is that you can use it for several courses. This is extremely helpful if you are converting several hours of content at once.
  • You need to update your content frequently? Then you might find that you spend less time with updates if you can plug in the change and have the audio immediately. You also don’t have to be concerned about your audio personality being on vacation when the updates are needed.
  • You are using a character in your course that would benefit from a synthesized voice? Then you could use text to speech without question. You will still have to listen to the audio to make sure words are pronounced so they are understandable and adjust as necessary. And, by the way, if you don’t own this software, you can still get a synthesized effect by processing a natural voice through any audio editor.
  • You can’t find the natural voice you want? Then going to a program like this may be perfect! Depending on the program, you can find male voices, female voices, voices with accents, voices that speak other languages (or even different dialects of a language), etc.

I’d like to hear your experience with text to speech. What lessons learned, best practices, or additional perspectives do you have?

Desiree Pinder
Artisan E-Learning

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