How to Use Text to Speech on the iPad

text to speech ipad

The iPad is a great device for assistive technology and text to speech is one of the most often used accessibility feature by teachers in special education and general education classrooms. Many teachers are not aware that it exists, but it does, and it has evolved to become a very usable solution with lots of valuable options to customize it to meet your needs. Here’s what you need to know to get started with text to speech functionality on your iPad.

How to Enable Text to Speech on the iPad

  1. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and turn on Speak Selection and Speak Screen by sliding the toggle switch to the right.
  2. Next, adjust the speed of the speech by sliding the speaking rate slider to the right (or the left) until the voice reads at an acceptable pace for your needs.
  3. Turn on Highlight Content. This option highlights words on the screen as they are read aloud by the iPad. It is a great feature that is a real boon for students and is proven to help improve reading skills.

Note: As much as I like the option to highlight words as they are spoken, I do not always have the best of luck getting this to work reliably. Your mileage may vary, especially on certain apps/websites, but it is still worth turning on.

iPad Text to Speech Settings

How to Use Speak Selection on the iPad

  1. Speak selection will read selected text aloud. To try it out, open a website and press and hold on a word and then release to select some text.
  2. Next, move the blue bars on either side of the word to make a larger selection.
  3. Tap Speak to start the text to speech and stop it at any time by tapping Pause.

Speak Selection iPad

How to Use Speak Screen on the iPad

  1. Speak screen reads everything on your screen without the need to select any text. To try it out, open a website and swipe down from the top bezel on the iPad with two fingers.
  2. The iPad will begin reading all the text it finds on the screen, but you can control the narration with the on-screen media controls.
  3. The media controls will auto-hide after a few seconds, but you can bring them back or hide them yourself by tapping the left arrow on the side of the controls.

Speak Screen on the iPad

How to Change Text to Speech Voices on the iPad

  1. Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Voices > English
  2. The default voice is Samantha, but if you prefer a male voice you can choose one here.
  3. Voices that are labelled as Enhanced may require a download before you can use them. This will use up more storage space on your device, but they are generally of a higher quality than the non-enhanced voices.
  4. Be sure to check the speaking rate if you change the read aloud voice. Some do seem to talk faster than others so move the slider accordingly.

Check out the video below for a comparison of some of the US English voices:

Note that newer devices like the iPad Air 2 have access to more voices than something like an iPad 2, which does not have as much variety.

Top Tips for Using Text to Speech on the iPad

  • The iPad won’t translate text into a foreign language, but it will read foreign language text aloud in the language in which it is written. So, if you see some text in French or Spanish, the iPad does a decent job of accurately articulating those words.
  • Text to speech is not just for special education. It is great for young readers with science textbooks or other non-fiction texts with technical vocabulary or unfamiliar words that are a challenge for young readers.
  • Headphones, or earbuds, make text to speech more practical for classrooms where multiple students require this accommodation.
  • Speaking of headphones, 3.5mm audio splitters will let two or more students share the same audio on one iPad.
  • Text to speech works on more than just websites. It works with a lot of iBooks, PDFs, and in other apps that support text to speech functionality.
  • If you don’t have access to the electronic version of a text, apps like Prizmo will allow you to scan printed text so that it can be read aloud.
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12 thoughts on “How to Use Text to Speech on the iPad

  1. jodyforsighs

    Thanks so much. I’m going to help my blind friend read her email now. One question. The iPad mini has speed control using a slider in settings. Is there more than one control? The one in Settings sounds good but when an email is heard it is way too fast. I had to set the slider as
    far left as possible for the email speech that sounded ok in the middle part of Settings slider.

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    1. jonathanwylie Post author

      Hmmm, it is not behaving the way it should! There is only one slider for pace, so there are a couple of things I would try if it is not working. The first might be to change the voice and see if that has any impact. Details on how to do that are in this article, (see above). If that doesn’t work, I would reset your Settings by going to Settings > General > Reset All Settings. This may restart your device, but it will retain all your apps, data and everything else. All it does is reset your preferences in the Settings menu so you can go in again and try to adjust the slider to get a decent pace in Mail. I have seen this method work in the past for an unresponsive speaking rate slider.

      As for your friend, I hope this helps her, but you should also check out the VoiceOver mode too. It was designed for those who are visually impaired. I have seen blind students using VoiceOver and a braille keyboard to navigate the iPad as well as you or I. It takes a bit of getting used to if you have not used it before, but it can be a great accessibility feature for those that need it. Apple has some information on it here: https://www.apple.com/accessibility/ios/voiceover/

      Let me know if this works for you! 🙂

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  2. Manel Sayrach

    Reblogged this on AmicsDeLesTIC's and commented:
    Malauradament el nou sistema operatiu de l’ipad iOS 9, presentat fa unes setmanes, no ens ha incorporat la veu del català. Ja amb iOS 8 es va aconseguir que el ipad ens “entengui” i li poguem dictar en català, però ell encara no ens hi parla… 🙂
    És una llàstima, doncs encara no el podem emprar amb aquells alumnes que els seria un gran recurs la lectura del text en pantalla.
    Però, per moltes altres llengües (espanyol, anglès, francès…) si que existeix, i per tant també es presenta una bona eina per l’aprenentatge d’aquestes llengües.
    El següent article us explica el seu funcionament.

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  3. Johnna Davis

    My daughter just bought a textbook for her iPad Air Kindle app. She wanted to be able to listen rather than having to just sit reading boring text. The Speak Screen function works with other books, but not with the textbook. Any ideas?

    Thanks

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    1. jonathanwylie Post author

      My best suggestion would be to try VoiceOver. This is an accessibility feature that is designed for people with low, or no, vision. However, in a pinch you could use it to read a Kindle book. Amazon has some instructions on how to enable it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201244940

      VoiceOver will make some other changes to the way the iPad works so you won’t want it on all the time. Here is a tip for that too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2612jR1Sz5I

      I hope it works! 🙂

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  4. Ellen Dunn

    Jonathan, I teach French but use English as the default language on my iPads. When I use the “speak selection” feature, I can choose either English or French, as I have installed a French voice in addition to the default English voice. However, when I use “Speak Screen”, it will only read in the default language of the iPad. I confirmed this by switching the default language to French, after which it would Speak Screen in French, but when I switched it back to English, it will only SS in English, regardless of the language of the text on the page. This frustrates me as I want my students to be able to use the Speak Screen function for various French websites and documents. Do you know of any way to get this feature to read in the language of the page?

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    1. jonathanwylie Post author

      Hmmm, when I try it I am able to get the iPad to speak screen, or speak selection in French, and that is while having the default language set to English. Maybe it is the website you are using? I tried it on the Le Monde newspaper website and had no problems. It even worked with the Safari Reader mode activated. I didn’t install any additional voices that I am aware of. It is just using the default French voice, and if it helps, I am using an iPad Air 2 that is running 9.2.1.

      I would maybe suggest getting in touch with Sylvia Duckworth on Twitter if you can (@sylviaducworth). She is a Canadian teacher who uses an iPad to teach French so she may be able to help more.

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  5. Geri

    I am having trouble getting the text to speech to work on my iPad while reading my kindle books. I have been using the feature on my kindle but wanted to use the same feature on iPad. I have turned on the items suggested via access ability to no avail. Can you help?

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    1. jonathanwylie Post author

      I don’t think all Kindle books support this. My best suggestion would be to try VoiceOver. This is an accessibility feature that is designed for people with low, or no, vision. However, in a pinch you could use it to read a Kindle book. Amazon has some instructions on how to enable it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201244940

      VoiceOver will make some other changes to the way the iPad works so you won’t want it on all the time. Here is a tip for that too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2612jR1Sz5I

      I hope it works! 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Dictation and text-to-speech on iPad | stargardts.net

  7. Catherine

    For some reason the two finger swipe does not work. I tried resetting but still no success. It works on my phone but not iPad 4. Any suggestions?

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    1. jonathanwylie Post author

      Hmmm, not sure why this might be. It should work on the iPad 4. I would double check that the feature is definitely turned on. Some people turn on Speak Selection, but miss the additional toggle for two-finger swipes.

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