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
- Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and turn on Speak Selection and Speak Screen by sliding the toggle switch to the right.
- 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.
- 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.
How to Use Speak Selection on the iPad
- 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.
- Next, move the blue bars on either side of the word to make a larger selection.
- Tap Speak to start the text to speech and stop it at any time by tapping Pause.
How to Use Speak Screen on the iPad
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How to Change Text to Speech Voices on the iPad
- Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Voices > English
- The default voice is Samantha, but if you prefer a male voice you can choose one here.
- 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.
- 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.