This blog post explores the assistive technology called text-to-speech.
Text-to-speech (TTS) technology translates the printed word into the spoken word. Perhaps the most important benefit of TTS is that it provides a bridge to printed material, including school textbooks. This is vital: as your child works on specific language skills with a clinician, TTS can help the child keep up with his or her schoolwork.
It may sound strange, but the goal of TTS assistive technology is not to teach your child anything, but rather to give your child access to the school materials he or she needs to learn. There are TTS systems designed specifically for those with reading disabilities and there are also teaching programs that use text-to-speech technology; they are not the same and your child’s clinician can help you make the right choice.
In my opinion, one of the very best TTS systems is Learning Ally. Using trained readers with lively intonation and expression, Learning Ally provides human-voice audiobooks at every grade level. Its catalog includes 61,000 titles, including textbooks – which is what reading-disabled school-age children need the most.
There is so much research supporting the effectiveness of the resources provided by Learning Ally that the Department of Education pays the membership fees for any child with a diagnosed print disability!
Learning Ally’s CDs and downloadable books are played either on special playback systems available on their website. The subscriber pays for the playback unit and then has unlimited access to the catalog.
A note on playback: parents often ask why their child can’t just listen to downloaded school materials on an MP3 player. Technically, they can. But the typical audiobook speed (150-160 words per minute) may be too fast for a child with a processing problem. Special playback units designed for the reading-disabled have the capacity to adjust the speed of the playback. They also allow the listener – your child – to “take notes” by “clipping” phrases or sections of text for later review. These are important distinctions. Your child’s clinician can evaluate your child’s abilities and advise you on which playback unit will work best.
As I mentioned, there are two types of TTS: human voice and synthetic, or computerized, voice. The latter converts paper or online printed text to a computer voice. While synthetic speech is definitely improving, as a therapeutic tool it works best for older students and adults, who can understand that synthetic-voice intonation, stress, phrasing, and pronunciation will not have the same vitality as the human voice.
If you have questions about dyslexia, assistive technologies, or learning tools that can help children with language-learning disorders, give us a call at 1-919-747-4557 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.