Some students living or studying in Australia who are blind or are vision impaired may also be enrolled in ESL classes. They might learn English more quickly, confidently and efficiently if their preferred or more proficient language of their parents or careers is also gainfully employed and utilised. Other ESL students may require or need to have access to a range of technologies to assist them in accessing and learning English.
Text to Speech Programs
There are numerous TTS programs that offer support for other languages (e.g. Balabolka, ReadPlease 2003 and DSpeech) as well as commercial applications (Texthelp Read&Write, ClaroRead). Software programs such as Boardmaker 5, 6 and Plus have multiple language support for symbol use whilst programs such as Lingoes will translate text using web resources.
Online web resources can also be used for translation or for speaking translated text e.g. http://www.acapela-group.com/text-to-speech-interactive-demo.html.
Text to Speech programs provide the basic SAPI 4 voices (Mary, Mike and Sam) with the higher quality human sounding SAPI 5 voices (e.g. Karen and Lee are the popular providing Australian voices).
These current TTS technologies are usually packaged with commercial programs (including literacy support applications such as Read&Write, ClaroRead, Kurzweil, the communications and symbol based Boardmaker V6, writing tool and onscreen grid program Clicker 5 and brainstorming and mind mapping Kidspiration V3 and Inspiration V9). Other specific TTS programs such as TextAloud and Natural Reader V10 commercial versions will contain a few SAPI 5 voices with others being optional purchases.
There are numerous companies who create, compile and supply synthetic computer voices to these companies and to the public. Balabolka V2.2, a free TTS program from Russia (http://www.cross-plus-a.com/balabolka.htm) enables the user to download and install up to 13 extra voices that are SAPI 4 based. The installed voices are predominantly English and Spanish with about 29 options of varying qualities.
The additional TTS voice technologies it promotes are the free Lernout and Hauspie TruVoice engines, including:
- American English (1 MB)
- British English (2.5 MB)
- Dutch (2.6 MB)
- French (2.2 MB)
- German (2.2 MB)
- Italian (2 MB)
- Japanese (3 MB)
- Korean (3 MB)
- Portuguese (Brazil) (2.4 MB)
- Russian (2.9 MB)
- Spanish (2.4 MB)
The SAPI 5 voices that are available include the following Microsoft voices that are English based:
- British English (19.4 MB)
- French (22.5 MB)
- German (20.7 MB)
- Italian (21.5 MB)
- Spanish (21.7 MB)
For students who require a Ukrainian voice, they can download and install the Ukrainian voice UkrVox Igor: UkrVox Igor.
To use SAPI 4 voices, download and install the re-distributable Microsoft Speech API file (827 KB). Also, you may download and install the Microsoft Speech Control Panel (928 KB); the Speech Control Panel will add an icon to your Control Panel to enable you to list the compatible text-to-speech engines installed on your system and customise their settings for your use.
Balabolka can use language modules from Microsoft Office 97/2000 for spell checking. If Microsoft Office is not installed on the host computer, or the user has another version of Microsoft Office, he or she can download spell-checking components from the Balabolka web site:
Balabolka can use Hunspell (http://hunspell.sourceforge.net). Hunspell is the default spell checker of OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox. Spell checker dictionaries for Windows:
Also the program supports GNU Aspell (http://aspell.net). GNU Aspell is a Free and Open Source spell checker designed to eventually replace Ispell. It can either be used as a library or as an independent spell checker.
High quality commercial voices can be acquired and purchased from the following companies:
- NextUp.com – SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 voices
- Acapela Group
- AT&T Natural Voices
The free version of ReadPlease 2003 (www.readplease.com) provides a range of free voices that are AT&T technologies. These will work with the free version of ReadPlease 2003 or the commercial ReadPlease Plus versions. To install these extra voices, the user needs to download one or more options from the links below and follow the instructions. Please make a note that these voices are only compatible with ReadPlease 2003 and ReadPlease PLUS 2003.
|TTS engine with 2 L&H British English voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H Dutch voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H French voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H German voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H Italian voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H Portuguese voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
|TTS engine with 2 L&H Spanish voices(Male & Female)||Download this voice now|
The free version of ReadPlease 2003 runs in a smaller window. This is the major disadvantage of the program for some users. It is simple and intuitive to learn and use with some excellent features.
Natural Reader V10 (http://www.naturalreaders.com) is another TTS program. It has some excellent features, including the capacity to run as a ‘Mini Bar’. This floating toolbar appearance enables users of all abilities to listen to any text that can be selected in the operating system or from any program.
Once installed, it only offers the computer sounding ‘Mary’ voice, but it will locate other SAPI voices, if they are installed on the user’s computer (e.g. Karen and Lee). If the commercial versions are purchased, the user acquires 2 or 4 high quality voices – albeit in English.
DSpeech is a free Italian TTS program that provides a range of powerful features at no cost to the school or user (http://www.dimio.altervista.org/eng/). It is a fully installable Windows program as well as a portable app (as is Balabolka).
It allows users to save the text to an output file – as a .WAV, .MP3 or OGG file. Users can select different voices, even combine them, or juxtapose them in order to create dialogues between different voices. DSpeech integrates a vocal recognition system that, through a simple script language, allows users to create interactive dialogues with the user. Students and teachers can dynamically change the features of the voices during the playback (speed, volume and frequency), to insert pauses, emphasise specific words, or even to spell them out.
Contents of the Clipboard can be captured and DSpeech is compatible with all vocal engines (SAPI 4-5 compliant). Users can configure the voices in an independent way as well.
SAPI5 voices can be used within DSpeech and offer the best quality, but unfortunately they are not often distributed for free. The most famous are Cepstral, Acapela, Loquendo, RealSpeak and Voiceware.
RealSpeak: They are good voices and it seems that Microsoft will integrate them by default on Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems.
bq. British English, Italian, Spanish, French, German
eSpeak: It’s a new open source engine in English (good) and in other languages (average). Multilanguage
SAPI4 voices, instead, have poor quality but are easier to find, and downloadable for free; the best are the ones listed above in Balabolka. The L&H TruVoice offers reasonable voice sampling, but for .wav and MP3 conversions, they are very slow.
Interface translation in other languages
The DSpeech interface can be translated in several languages:
TextAloud (http://www.nextup.com/) can be used as a standalone program but I also use the facilities of it’s TTS in my email program (Microsoft Outlook) and whilst browsing in Internet Explorer.
TextAloud is Text to Speech software that converts your text from MS Word Documents, emails, web pages and PDF Files into natural-sounding speech. Users can listen on their PCs or create audio files for use on portable devices such as iPods phones and iPod Touch models (including the new to be released iPads) Pocket PCs, Palm PDAs and CD players. TextAloud even has automatic iTunes/ iPod syncing.
Numerous voice choices can be made and it is an extensive list. Users can check out more voices if they are not shown in the following table.
|Mike (US English)
Crystal (US English)
Julia (US English)
Mel (US English)
Ray (US English)
Charles (UK English)
Audrey (UK English)
Anjali (Indian English)
Alberto (LA Spanish)
Rosa (LA Spanish)
Arnaud (Can French)
|Heather (US English)
Ryan (US English) Peter (UK English)
|Jennifer (US English)
Samantha (US Eng)
Daniel (UK English)
Karen (AU English)
Sangeeta (Ind Eng)
|Callie (US English)
David (US English)
Diane (US English)
Lawrence (UK Eng)
Millie (UK English)
Robin (Eng Child)
Amy (US English)
Emily (US English)
Walter (US English)
Isabelle (Can French)
Jean-Pierre (Can Fr)
Often, a ‘quick and dirty’ way to have text spoken in another language is to use online resources. The Acapela site provides an option whereby the student or educator types in some text, chooses a preferred language from a drop down list-box, and the English text is voiced immediately (or with a small time lag). http://www.acapela-group.com/text-to-speech-interactive-demo.html
Programs such the free to download Lingoes (http://www.lingoes.net/en/index.html) provide a number of key features that will prove useful to ESL teachers and students. There is also a portable version.
Lingoes are an easy and intuitive dictionary and text translation software program. It offers lookup dictionaries, full text translation, capture word onscreen; it translates selected text and pronunciation of words in over 80 languages. These languages include English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Greek, Swedish, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Arabic, Hebrew, Vietnamese and Thai.
Key features include:
- Cross translation over 80 languages
- Full text translation over 42 languages
- Ctrl + Right mouse button key for the cursor translation
- Zoned word translation
- Clipboard text capture
- Words and Texts Pronunciation
- Free dictionaries and thesauruses
- Online dictionaries and WikiPedia access
Babylon 9 is a commercial program with a free download trial version available.
Babylon’s features include:
- Easy to use – translate with just one click of a mouse
- Translation to and from 75 languages
- Full Web page translation
- Full document translation (Word, PDF, Text)
- Integrates seamlessly into Microsoft office Spellers
- Leading Dictionary Packs – Britannica, OXFORD and WikiPedia
Online Text Translation
There are a number of sites that provide options for text translation.
FreeTranslation is a quick way to type some text and have it immediately translated (be careful though, as not all of these engines are 100% accurate!) http://www.freetranslation.com/
Yahoo7 Babel Fish allows a user to type up to 150 words from one language to another (not just English to another language). http://au.babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_txt. Users an also have a web page translated. This is very handy where a newspaper article in Greece, written in Greek, is required for a student learning English. It also caters to parents who require English translation of documents online, or from English text into their native tongue.
There are more technology options for ESL students (e.g. hand held translating devices from Franklins http://www.franklinelectronics.com.au/ but these are predominantly free and easy to use for educators and students!