What is Text to Speech (TTS) technology and how can you use it?
There are plenty of websites available online, and this abundance makes the potential user more picky. Attractive visuals and engaging content are not enough anymore to keep visitors interested. What counts is that the site is accessible and available to different users on various devices.
Text to speech technology is your solution for delivering content to a broad audience. Traditionally adopted by people with reading and visual impairments, the TTS solutions bring many more benefits to different users and businesses. Read on to find out more.
Text to speech technology explained
TTS, often called a “read-aloud technology” is based on a process that allows converting text (input) into natural-sounding speech (output). Traditionally, the computerized voice sounded robotic and unrealistic, but TTS is constantly evolving. With modern technology development, improvements to the sound and pitch have been introduced, and the speech generated by the machines can even convey emotions. Nowadays, it’s hard to judge if you’re listening to a human voice or a computer.
Building an effective text to speech system is quite complicated and requires a thorough knowledge of several scientific fields: linguistics, audio signal processing, and, nowadays, also deep learning.
Deep learning is a machine learning method that uses artificial neural networks inspired by the biological networks (aka the human brain) for signal processing.
How TTS solutions convert text to a natural-sounding speech
Let’s try to explain in plain words how the TTS engine works. First, it converts raw text files with symbols and numbers into a readable format (it’s called text normalization or tokenization); next, it assigns phonetic transcriptions to each word, following the structures and pronunciation in the text. A symbolic linguistic representation created as a result is then processed and turned into sound. The algorithm uses in-built dictionaries and available speakers’ recordings to determine accentuation.
Traditionally the text to speech conversion was done with one of the two methods:
Concatenative synthesis – links together short samples of the recorded audio (called units) in a chain.
Formant synthesis – uses formants (frequency peaks that appear in a sound wave when we speak) and uses a model to replicate sounds we make with vowels.
Natural sounding text conversion with AI
With significant developments in AI, machine, and deep learning, it was possible to improve the quality of synthesized speech. The software can now retrieve voice samples from multiple databases and interpret words in a surprisingly accurate way. Neural networks train computers to communicate using large volumes of human speech. As a result, generated audio sounds are more realistic and include all the nuances of natural voices, such as tone, pitch, or accentuation.
TTS solutions evolve in many ways – they are able to produce any kind of custom voice or, for example, use existing audio of real-life celebrities for voiceovers. Moreover, speech software can read the texts from images or hand-written notes using optical character recognition (OCR).
All mentioned innovations significantly improve the quality of customer experience this type of assistive technology provides.
Text to speech use cases
Commonly, TTS has been used as an accessibility tool for people with a variety of special needs linked to visual and reading impairments (like dyslexia). Inclusive technology is a level playing field for visitors facing such problems. Many people who lost their ability to speak due to illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, ALS, or strokes, can use TTS to communicate with others efficiently. In addition, current developments allow them to create (or even recreate) natural-sounding voices they can call their own.
Text to speech solutions has also been known to improve literacy and comprehension skills. Widely used in language education, they make learning more engaging. For example, it’s much easier and faster to apprehend a foreign language when one can listen to the live translation of written words with correct intonation and pronunciation.
Most ebook readers, mapping software, word processors (even our good old “MS Word”), and phone operating systems use this solution. It’s convenient and makes users’ life easy, especially because it facilitates multitasking. Who hasn’t listened to an audiobook or a podcast while driving a car or cooking dinner? You can now ask your device to read the recipe you’re working on for you or to deliver the news and weather reports while you focus on other tasks.
Moreover, with text to speech you avoid visual strain, which is an unavoidable result of spending hours with a book or engaging with the text in front of the computer.
Commercial use of natural sounding voices
Apart from a common “reading-aloud”, TTS has many other functions. It’s used on different devices in a wide variety of sectors. You can find text to speech solutions in:
- Voice-based digital assistants (such as Siri or Alexa)
- Interactive voice response systems (for example, in contact centers and phone banking)
- Smart home devices
- Media and training materials
- Public announcements and notifications
- Navigation tools (e.g., automotive manufacturing)
- Video games
- Tourism – for communication with customers from different countries or translation of guided tours
In most of the cases mentioned above, TTS is only a part of a solution. For example, digital voice assistants use two-way communication called conversational computing, which consists of text to speech components, along with automated speech recognition, natural language processing, and generation. Nevertheless, TTS is an integral part of this technology, that generates digital assistant’s answers to commands or requests in text form, later translated back to speech.
Types of text to speech tools
The TTS tools used for the standard “read-aloud” solutions take several forms:
- Built-in TTS tools – you can find them in desktops, laptops, smartphones, etc.
- Text to speech apps – downloadable on any mobile device, often include solutions such as OCR and highlighting sections of the currently read text
- Web-based tools – web features allowing the content to be read aloud
- Text to speech software programs – there is an abundance of literacy software available on desktop and mobile. We will introduce you to some of them.
TTS software capabilities
The use of text to speech features is becoming gradually more and more common. While, at the very least, TTS software should be able to effectively and quickly convert text into a natural-sounding speech, dedicated free and paid tools can offer much more.
Some of the most popular TTS solutions are Amazon Polly, Google Cloud, Murf.ai or ReadSpeaker.
Google Cloud Text to Speech helps create personalized customer interactions. Murf.ai provides several voice customization features and allows users to add generated voiceovers to videos, presentations, online courses, demos, etc. ReadSpeaker is a perfect solution when you want to add speech to websites and apps, or give a voice to robots. Amazon Polly takes pride in creating natural-sounding voices thanks to the use of Natural Text To Speech (NTTS) technology that improves the quality of synthetic voices. The tool lets you create audio files and serve them from the cloud or as an offline playback. You can also send the text to Amazon Polly and it will stream back the audio in real-time.
Depending on the software you choose, you can edit the text to be converted, create narration for many materials, add voice to your app, or have photos and scans read to you. In addition, computer-generated audio is usually available in many different languages to further enhance user access and overall experience.
5 best Text to Speech WordPress plugins
Play.ht – gives access to 100+ voices that surprise users with how realistic they sound. A perfect solution for content editors who want to implement voiceovers, allows you to select the narration style, pronunciation, and add pauses.
AWS for WordPress – an Amazon Polly plugin that generates an audio version of posts as they are published. Integrated with Amazon Alexa lets you listen to your posts and podcasts on Alexa devices.
ResponsiveVoice – you can add the code to hear the entire page or choose to select sections of the text using the dedicated editable “Listen to this” button. An audio version of the content is available to users with a single click.
Trinity Audio – this solution allows for creating playlists, adjusting playing speed capabilities, and implementing real-time translations. It also presents a dashboard with usability reports and statistics. Trinity includes ads played before the post audio if you want to make money from your content.
BeyondWords (formerly SpeechKit) – similarly to TrinityAudio, supports ad insertion to monetize your content. You can choose from 720+ natural-sounding AI voices in over 60 languages, embed audio automatically via a customizable player, generate a podcast feed, and monitor user engagement.
Use TTS to enhance your business
There are many benefits of using text to speech for customers and businesses. Existing tools offer features that open the world of possibilities to organizations seeking to be more socially responsible, companies that want to improve web rankings, and consumers who wish (or need) to hear the words instead of reading them.
What’s in it for you?
- It’s a scalable solution – you can input a vast amount of data and convert them into audio. For the new or updated content, spoken versions can be created automatically.
- It increases your website’s visibility by providing access to people with literacy issues, visual impairments, and other disabilities. Mind that 71% of people with disabilities will leave a site that is not accessible.
- You save money and time when you don’t hire professionals to do voiceovers. Simply click and generate audio translations.
- Improved user experience and various options to consume content on all kinds of devices will encourage customers to keep returning to your site.
- Demonstrated social responsibility and accessibility of your content will undoubtedly boost your brand’s overall image.
Benefits for the user
- convenience (in terms of content availability on mobile devices, but also in terms of facilitated multitasking);
- access to different educational materials and a choice of learning styles;
- availability of digital content to the growing elderly population (the number of which is estimated to reach 2.1 billion globally);
- inclusion of people with physical and learning abilities as well as those experiencing literacy issues.
Always remember that accessibility and flexibility of content delivery are important factors influencing your website’s and your company’s success. Implement solutions to attract the widest possible audience. Text to speech software and plugins will help you achieve this goal.
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The solution works exceptionally well in the case of lengthy content when the user searches for information online by opening many tabs with articles on the same topic. While browsing other pages, the user can listen to the article as if listening to a podcast. It saves his time. Implementing this solution allows us to induce a positive user experience.