The speech feature in TextHelp Read and Write allows you to read aloud documents that you have received on disk or via email. It also reads aloud paper documents that you have digitized using a scanner (find out more about scanning documents into your computer). The synthesised speech is also a useful aid when proofreading documents as it will pick up on words that the spellchecker might miss and incorrect grammar and punctuation will become easier to identify.
The speech feature is made up of four main buttons on the Read & Write toolbar: Rewind, Play, Pause, Forward, and Stop. The Play button has a dropdown menu that contains further features and options.
Click anywhere within a sentence in a Word document and press the Play button on the Read & Write toolbar. You should hear your sentence read aloud to you. It is normal for the voice to take a few seconds to load the first time you use it. Pressing the Play button again will repeat the current sentence, pressing Forward will read the next sentence and pressing Rewind will read the previous sentence. Using these buttons you can read aloud an entire document at your own pace – moving forward a sentence at a time.
I’m a great advocate of using the computer keyboard as much as possible and leaving the mouse to one side. In this case it is especially important to learn the keyboard shortcuts as it is difficult to catch the whole sentence whilst concentrating on positioning and clicking the mouse on the correct toolbar button. I recommend that you immediately start by learning the keyboard shortcuts:
By default Read & Write will read aloud a sentence and then stop, waiting for you to press the Forward button in order to continue. This allows you to absorb the information and assemble the meaning of the sentence before moving on. You can set Read & Write to read word by word by clicking on the dropdown menu button next to the Play button on the toolbar.
With this option set the program will read one word at a time, requiring you to press CTRL + ALT + RIGHT in order to hear the next word aloud. This is suitable for people with the most severe reading difficulties. Read & Write can also be set to read paragraph by paragraph.
In this mode the program will read and entire paragraph before stopping. Although this can be quicker than sentence by sentence often paragraphs are rather lengthy and you lose the opportunity to fully absorb the meaning of the individual sentences by the time you reach the end.
Many people ask how they can have the document read aloud in one long session without the need to ever press a key to advance it. Although this is possible it can make reading documents very difficult as control is taken away from you and given to the computer. Imagine if you were to read a book which insisted on turning its own page every three minutes! To enable this feature select ‘Automatically read next block of text’ from the Play dropdown menu.
You may have discovered that Read & Write has a frustrating tendency to read aloud text when browsing web pages using Internet Explorer. As you move the mouse around to click on links or scroll the page, Read & Write will attempt to read aloud all the text that you pass over. This is a feature called ‘Web Highlighting’ and you might be pleased to know that it can be disabled.
Many people complain to me about this feature but it does have its uses. It allows you to have text read aloud to you from a web page without the need to highlight it first – which on some pages can be particularly awkward.
It is possible to turn Web Highlighting off and still have speech-enabled web pages and I do recommend this for most of the Dyslexic students that I work with.
After you have disabled web highlighting you will need to use your mouse to select text that you want read aloud. Once you have selected your sentence or paragraph you can then press Play (CTRL + ALT + DOWN) to have it read aloud. When the block of text has been read aloud you can then use Forward (CTRL + ALT + RIGHT) to read the next block of text as we have been doing in our documents.
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