A guide to text-to-speech, the popular accessibility feature that lets your computer, phone, or tablet read to you

ShutterstockThere are many different types of text-to-speech.

  • Text-to-speech (TTS) is a popular feature that lets your computer or phone read text aloud to you.
  • Text-to-speech is commonly used as an accessibility feature to help people who have trouble reading on-screen text, but it’s also convenient for those who want to be read to.
  • You can find text-to-speech features in many places today, including ebook readers, word processors, internet browsers, and more.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Text-to-speech, sometimes abbreviated as TTS, is a feature on your computer or phone that reads on-screen text aloud to you.

Depending on how it’s used, text-to-speech can be a convenience feature, or an accessibility feature that helps people who need additional assistance to hear text that’s printed on-screen.

Though TTS systems rely on a computerised voice speaking to you, in recent years these voices have become much more natural sounding. Many modern TTS voices are almost indistinguishable from humans, and some even incorporate natural human inflections to make them sound more lifelike.


The most common uses of text-to-speech

Pekic/Getty Images

Text-to-speech has become so ubiquitous that many people encounter it every day, often without even realising it. Here are some of the most common examples of TTS in use today.


Smart speakers and virtual assistants

Wachiwit/ShutterstockSiri, the assistant built into Apple devices, uses text-to-speech.

The place we see text-to-speech most often is with smart assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

When you ask these assistants a question, they read to you from a predetermined library of words and phrases. These systems couldn’t function without TTS technology.


Ebook Readers

AmazonThe only type of Kindle devices that have text-to-speech are Kindle Fire models.

Most popular ebook readers, including all new Kindle Fire devices, have a text-to-speech option. This also includes online readers, like the Internet Archive.

When buying an ebook for your Kindle Fire, you can check whether or not it can be read aloud by looking for the “Text-to-Speech: Enabled” label on its details page before you buy it.


Mapping software

Nick Bastone/Business InsiderWhen Google Maps ‘speaks’ to you, it’s using a form of text-to-speech.

Mapping and navigation apps like Google Maps and Apple Maps are designed to automatically read turn-by-turn directions aloud using text-to-speech technology.


Word processors

Dave Johnson/Business InsiderMicrosoft Word has a ‘Read Aloud’ function built in.

Some word processors have the ability to read contents aloud. Microsoft Word, for example, has a “Read Aloud” feature in the “Review” menu. When you select it, Word will read the current document aloud.

Google Docs has its own text-to-speech functions, but you’ll need an add-on to use them.


Computer and phone operating systems

Dave Johnson/Business InsiderWhen you turn on Narrator, you can have your PC read you nearly anything.

No matter what type of computer or smartphone you have, it has accessibility features that can read on-screen elements to you.

In Windows, you can turn on Narrator in the “Ease of Access” settings menu, while Mac users can enable VoiceOver using the “Accessibility” panel.

iPhone users can find VoiceOver in the Accessibility section of Settings. Android users can download a host of TTS apps, or enable the built-in Google Text-to-Speech app through the “Language & Input” menu.

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