Computer: Read Me My Story!

FacebookpinterestFacebookpinterest

UPDATES: Un-fucking-BELIEVABLY, Apple dorked up access this wonderful feature in updates to its operating system. In OS 10.11.4 (El Capitan), you have to go to system preferences > dictation and speech. (Note how conveniently this is different from the earlier process.) Once there, click on “text to speech.” To get the Mac to read the highlighted passage in your Word document, FIRST you have to find the “speak selected text when the key is pressed” choice in “Text to speech.” If you click on this, it should show the default keyboard command, Option+Escape. It will not run this automatically. Even though the command appears to be a default, you have to proactively SELECT it to make it work. Once you’ve done that, your Mac probably will read a selected passage in Word aloud for you.

Dammit, Apple. IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!

*****

I, Reader...

I, Reader…

Here’s something fun, kinda silly, and useful: If you have an Apple computer, you can make your Mac read copy from Word out loud.

It is a hoot. You get a half-dozen choices of “voices”:  three female and three male. They all sound equally robotic. But surprisingly, they get most of the pronunciation right, they interpret the punctuation correctly, and the result is clear and easy to understand. And — here’s the thing! — listening to some”one” else read your copy aloud helps you to catch typos and glitches that you miss when you proof your own stuff. Even when you read your own stuff aloud, that gold standard of DIY copyediting.

I tried this out on a passage from an abstruse scholarly paper emanated by one of my clients. These things start out difficult to read because they’re about as exciting as watching a tree stump disintegrate. Then the task is complicated by the fact that my clients are native speakers of languages other than English. This author, for example, is in India….

Academic paper

There are also studies that compare Indian and foreign firms. Valuation of R&D is higher in India when compared to the US or Europe, and it is much higher for Indian firms than foreign firms invested in India, although the difference is smaller in science-based industries (Chadha & Oriani, 2010). Although average R&D levels have decreased, evidence is presented of rationalization and more efficiency of R&D spending, which rises faster with firm size and is directed toward assimilation of technology imports and toward support of exports (Kumar & Aggarwal, 2005). Both studies (Chadha & Oriani, 2010; Kumar & Aggarwal, 2005) also highlight the different profile of R&D pursued by Indian firms and subsidiaries of foreign multinational enterprises. These studies indicate a need to investigate the specific approaches adopted by Indian firms as opposed to foreign subsidiaries to improve returns on R&D investments.

Ah,  yes… another eye-glazing review of the literature. But note that our robot reader has no problem pronouncing Indian names — indeed, “he” does better with those than “he” does with an Italian name. And multisyllabic words are no problem.

Here, when we hear the copy read aloud, we quickly recognize that the word “when” in the second sentence isn’t quite right — possibly “as” would work better, because he’s not talking about something happening in response to an event or a trigger. Then we see that Author uses the word “although” twice in a short span, almost back-to-back: one of those needs to be fixed. These are small things we can massage to make the English sound more idiomatic.

Having plowed through 10,000 words of this and sent the thing back to the client, I decided to try Robo-Reader on my own golden words. Here’s what happens when the thing is applied to the rawest of rough drafts:

Draft fiction narrative

When they reached the corner Merren had specified, they climbed out of the car. Merren led Chadzar to a narrow alley. The buildings’ walls blocked most of the sunlight into the tunnel-like walkway. “You say there’s a restaurant here?” Chad asked after they’d gone a few hundred feet through the gloom.

“Right up that way.”

“I don’t see any sign.”

“This place doesn’t need a sign.”

He stopped in front of a small, unmarked entrance and pushed the door open. It led into a narrow entryway and a flight of uncarpeted steps. Merren took the steps up to the landing two at a time, followed more tentatively by the Michaian. Again they came to an undistinguished door, and again Merren walked through it as though it belonged to him.

Light poured through the opening into the dark hallway. The sound of voices came with it. Inside, groups of men and women sat around long, narrow, tables. A few children played here and there or loafed with the adults, some of whom were eating, some chatting, some betting over games of budil or cards or tiny multicolored twirling tops. The windowless room was brightly lit with glow-panels that covered all four walls. A few decorative lights graced the ceiling. The scent of roasting meat and aromatic vegetables perfumed the air.

“Hey-hey!” a voice called out across the room “Here’s the Bear!” A broad smile crossed Merren’s face and he delivered a mock salute. The decibel level rose briefly as others greeted him with “Bear!” “Come on over here!” “We’ve got a seat for you, brother…” and “Who’s the new boyfriend?” A lithe brown woman bearing a large bowl of steaming food sidled up to Merren, murmured “Bear-Bear,” and hugged him with her free arm. He kissed her on the lips, eliciting a cheer from the audience.

Not bad, for a robot, eh? He kind of sounds like a character in a computer game. But he gets most of the pronunciation right — even of invented words and names — and about 95% of the time even the intonation is pretty good. In translation from the machine reading into QuickTime, our robot guy affects a whistley lisp that’s kind of annoying here but that doesn’t appear in a Mac reading before it’s recorded in QT.

Our robot reader picked up a typo that I missed over many readings and attempts to revise: the unneeded and unwanted comma between “narrow” and “tables.” And another effect of allowing the machine to read the copy while I follow along: lo! It highlights the fact that I used the word “narrow” three times in 219 words.

I have no idea whether this will work on a PC. On a Mac, though, go to System Preferences > System > Speech to bring up the program.

Interestingly, because QuickTime (the program I used to make these recordings) will pick up any sounds in the room, you could in theory add your own comments and reminders to a recording of a passage — for a writer, this could be handy. It also would be very helpful if you’re teaching writing to visually impaired or severely dyslexic students. Dang! Wish I’d thought of this when I was at the community college!

It’s kind of fun to hear some”one” read your emanations. But it also may be a powerful revision tool.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2 thoughts on “Computer: Read Me My Story!

  1. SherryH

    Ha! Yes! I love screen reading programs for proofreading–great for picking up subtle typos that spellcheck won’t flag and are easy to miss visually, like though/through or if/it/is/in. I hadn’t really thought about sighted people using them that way, but it’s an awesome idea!

    I’m amazed by how much the software gets correct, though some words trip it up, with amusing results. Dove, live, read, lead, row all change pronunciation depending on how they’re used, and the distinction is sometimes hard to parse.

    I believe Windows 10 (and maybe Windows 8) have built-in screen readers. I’ve been very happy with NVDA (for Non-Visual Desktop Access) though I don’t think it works on the Mac.

  2. funny Post author

    Sighted people seem to have a certain degree of vision impairment where our own Golden Words are concerned. I can look RIGHT AT a passage and not see words dropped out, extra spaces between characters, or even outright misspellings. Even when they appear in bold-faced headings!!! The Mac reader brought several of those kinds of errors to my attention, and listening to some”one” else reading the copy aloud also highlighted some stylistic flaws (infelicitous rhymes, repetitions of striking words, and the like).

    It appears to be a very powerful tool, whether you’re sighted or not. Wish I’d known about this years ago.

Comments are closed.