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Lean back and listen: let your PC do the reading.

Whether you generally dislike reading yourself or simply want to multitask from time to time, letting your computer read documents to you out loud can make life better. Windows comes, built in, with the ability to read text – it’s how anyone blind makes use of the operating system. The computerized voices won’t win awards for their dramatic performances, but they’re perfectly fine if you want a break from reading yourself.

Sadly, how to use this functionality isn’t altogether obvious. Don’t worry, though, because a simple trick can turn Microsoft Word into the ultimate document reader, and a bunch of third-party apps can read any text you paste into them. Let’s take a tour.

Make Microsoft Word Read to You

Here’s something you might not know: the ability to read text back to you is actually built into Microsoft Word itself. The problem: it’s not included in the ribbon interface you’re used to. No matter: here’s how to add a “Speak” button to the top of every Word window.

Above the ribbon you should see a small toolbar, by default containing only the Save, Undo and Redo buttons. This is called the Quick Access Toolbar, and you can add more buttons to it – including one for speaking highlighted text. Click the arrow to the right of the toolbar to get started:

word-speak-custom

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Click the “More Commands” button to begin exploring the vast world of Microsoft Word functions. Explore the “Commands Not In The Ribbon” section and you’ll find the “Speak” option:

word-add-speak

Click the “Add” button between the two columns, then click “Okay”. There is now a “Speak” button in your Quick Access Toolbar:

word-speak-button

Click this button and Word will read, out loud, whatever word your cursor is next to. Highlight a block of text before hitting the button and you’ll hear every word in that selection. If most of the reading you need to do is in Word, congratulations: you probably don’t need any other program. Just hit CTRL+A to highlight your entire document, then press play.

Narrator: Built Into Windows

Windows also comes with built-in screen reading technology. It’s called Narrator, and it’s mostly intended for the blind. Start it up and Narrator will immediately begin reading every bit of text on every window that you open – which is great if you’re blind, but annoying if you just wanted Windows to read a bit of text for you.

Happily, Microsoft offers a list of keyboard shortcuts for the software. Check this out if you want to become familiar with it, but honestly, it’s probably better to try some third party software instead. It’s just easier.

Balabolka

If you’re not afraid of a few extra features, check out Balabolka. It’s interface is less straight-forward than other options, but you gain control over things like speed and pitch:

Balboka is notable for being able to open DOC/DOCX, TXT, PDF, EPUB and ODT files directly – meaning you can open your favorites in moments. It can also convert files to MP3, making it easy to listen to a document on your phone or MP3 player. There’s even batch conversion, if you want audio copies of multiple documents.

Read more about Balabolka for Windows Convert Text To Speech For Free With Balabolka [Windows] Convert Text To Speech For Free With Balabolka [Windows] Read More , because it’s probably the app you will want to use.

TypeIt ReadIt

With a simple interface and the ability to export your writing to a text or WAV file, TypeIt ReadIt is a great free program. Paste any text into its window, or open a TXT file directly. If you want something read to you quickly, this is a great app to try.

typeit-readit

The interface is simple yet functional, though it is a little odd how the buttons scale if you make the window bigger. The software uses the voices that come with Windows. Use this app if you want something simple and free.

Natural Reader Free (Windows, Mac)

The free version of Natural Reader can’t export to MP3, but if you want a simpler interface for pasting and hearing text you’re going to like it. Paste any text into this window, then hit the clearly-visible play button:

natural-reader-free

It doesn’t get easier than that, right? If you like the program, but need more features, the Personal version starts at $69. Additional features include exporting to MP3 and additional voices – but it’s probably worth checking out Balabolka before you spend your cash. Still, the free version is attractive and functional so check it out.

eSpeak (Windows, Linux, Mac)

Do you want voices entirely different from those included with Windows? Try eSpeak. This program employs its own engine, and is worth checking out if you dislike Microsoft’s voices:

The program can open TXT files and export to WAV. It’s also got creepy lips that move, so if you like that sort of thing this is perfect I guess. It’s primarily a Linux program, but the Windows version comes with a unique GUI seen above. Read more about eSpeak Give Your Computer A Voice With eSpeak [Windows & Linux] Give Your Computer A Voice With eSpeak [Windows & Linux] Let your computer do the talking. Install eSpeak and you can make your computer say anything, in a wide variety of languages. Looking for a lightweight text to speech program? Whether you want to listen... Read More , if you’re curious.

What’s the Best Option?

If you plan on mostly using this for Word documents, I’d recommend you stick with Word’s built-in solution. Once you’ve set it up it’s always there for you. But if you want a dedicated program to paste text into or open files directly, you probably want to try Balabolka first. It can handle a bunch of different files and can export to MP3.

But, of course, I could be wrong. What program do you use to make your computer talk to you? Share your best apps for the job in the comments below.

Image Credits: Closeup rear view Via Shutterstock

  1. Heather Carrasco
    October 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    I normally use narrator on windows but it is difficult to navigate through, which can be frustrating. I just needed a reader for Microsoft Word and I was not aware this was offered until now. Thank you very much for this article!

  2. Ellie
    January 30, 2016 at 11:59 am

    On the first step when you have to click on the arrow, all my arrow is saying is to move it below the ribbon?? Help please!

    • Justin Pot
      January 30, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      What version of Office are you using, Ellie? This article is a few years old and my not apply

  3. CA
    January 15, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Thanks so much for this information. I have been trying to do this forever to have my textbooks read to me (I copy and paste them into a doc) Then I added the Speak command. Amazing. I am so happy to be able to do this and even be able to have it talk in the background while I do other things on the computer.

    • David
      February 23, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      If your Word is an older version Wordtalk a free macro from University of Edinburgh may have greater function for you.

      • David
        February 23, 2016 at 11:12 pm

        Sorry forgot - Central Access Reader from Central Washington University will also read word documents

  4. deborah
    December 4, 2015 at 12:28 am

    my nephew is dyslexic and cant read but would like to play computer games all of which require him to read the instructions. what would you recommend for this?

  5. shivang
    November 12, 2015 at 10:29 am

    i have office 2007 and i'm not getting the speak option in the way you said please tell me what should i do

    • Justin Pot
      November 12, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      I think that 2007 doesn't have this feature, it's in 2010 and later. Sorry about that.

    • David
      February 23, 2016 at 11:15 pm

      The Wordtalk macro may work for you.

  6. Yara
    January 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    So I have Office 2013... I managed to get the speak command just fine but I'm not sure how to edit the voice settings (the speed, the pitch...etc)

    • Justin Pot
      November 12, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      I don't think you can change all that, sadly.

    • Jess
      November 2, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      I have office 2016. Why doesn't the speech work for me though?? I have the button but it never really glows if you get what I mean.

  7. Juan D
    November 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    dont forget libreoffice, read text extension is the one you seek

  8. faisal khan
    November 1, 2013 at 6:18 am

    what about pdf? is there anything for that because i have alot of pdf books but don't get time to read them completely.

  9. Josue A
    October 15, 2013 at 1:17 am

    I use Balabolka, have a lot of features and is small. Besides I can have it portable through Liberty key portable applications

  10. Falloo
    October 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Awesome, I never knew about the Microsoft word text to speech option. Thanks guys

  11. Andrew
    October 7, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    The best option that I have found with the highest quality is Ivona. A little bit pricey but makes everything above look like absolute rubbish.

  12. Doug D
    October 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    That "Quick Access Bar" is on 2010.

    • Jason Weiss
      October 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

      2007 also has a Quick Access Bar. But I guess 2010 was the one that added speech. Figures :)

    • Steve Costello
      October 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      When I search for "text to speech" in Word 2007, it returns that it is only available in Excel.

  13. Jason Weiss
    October 7, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    What version of Word has the "Speak" command? I have 2007 and it's not there.

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