Make your Mac read to you. Whether you want to hear an article while you do something else or want another voice to read your writing back to you for proofreading purposes, OS X comes with everything you need.
James pointed out how you can download the Siri voice for Mac and make her say anything you want, but what he didn’t point out is how easy it is to use this and other voices to listen to articles or proofread your work. With a simple keyboard shortcut you can tell your Mac to read any highlighted text, and in other programs you just tell your app to start reading.
Even better: with Mavericks you can download a variety of high-quality voices with a variety of regional accents, from the UK to Australia, and India to South Africa. It’s yet another overlooked feature of Mavericks.
Using Your Mac’s Speech Function
The Speech feature on your Mac is something you’ve probably seen in the menu, but never thought to actually click. In most programs (but not all), hit “Edit” in the menubar. You should see a Speech menu, that looks like this:
Click Start Speaking and your Mac will start reading whatever’s open using its default voice. It’s just that simple.
You can create a keyboard shortcut for this, if you want. Just head to Keyboard settings in your Mac’s System Preferences panel. Head to Shortcuts, then to the App Shortcuts option in the left panel.
From here you can create a keyboard shortcut for anything that shows up in the menu in any program. Create a new shortcut, for All Applications, and name it Start Speaking. Then add whatever keyboard shortcut you prefer.
Add another shortcut for stopping, if you want. You can also add a keyboard shortcut for reading any selected text, but we’ll get to that later.
What Can I Use This For?
Okay, so a talking computer is cool – and extremely useful if you happen to be blind – but what can the rest of us use this for?
Multitasking, for one thing. Say there are a variety of articles you need to read, but you also need to do some graphic design work. Get your Mac to read the articles to you and you can absorb the information while getting your design work done.
But the real breakthrough, for me, was using this service to proofread my work. When reading back over a piece of work, your brain skips over some of the mistakes you make – no matter how many times you read your writing. Hearing someone else read it, however, makes these mistakes obvious. Hearing a voice read your work – even a computerized one – can help you spot typos and more.
This could work for blog posts, school or college papers, especially large email messages, covering letters and anywhere accuracy comes especially valued.
Finding Your Voice
Okay, so now you know how to make your Mac start reading any text. But can you control what the voice sounds like? Yes. Head back to System Preferences, and this time choose the Dictation And Speech option:
Click the Text To Speech toggle and you’ll see the following options:
The default voice, Tom, is great – but you might want something else. Click the drop down menu and you will see a few choices, and you can get even more by clicking the Customize option. The first thing you’ll see is a collection of international accents:
Some of these voices are pretty good, so check them out. Below this you’ll find a variety of American voices – some nicer than others. This video provides an overview of most of the older options:
Note that a few of the newer, high-quality voices aren’t included in the above video – including the voice of Siri, named Samantha on the Mac. The high quality voices will take a while to download – they’re around 300 megabytes – but if you like the sound of the preview, it will probably be worth it.
A lot of simple voices are in-built, including a variety of really silly ones. These voices date back to the 1990s, or even earlier, by way of a program called MacInTalk. The features of this program were folded into Mac OS in the late nineties, and a few of them have become famous along the way. As an example, “Ralph” should sound familiar to anyone who’s seen the movie Wall-E. Take the time to explore the options – I think you’re going to like them.
While you’re in the settings, feel free to set a keyboard shortcut for speaking the currently selected text. You can also have your Mac read the time on the half hour.
Other Ways To Use These Voices
There are a few other ways to use these voices. Perhaps the simplest is using the Terminal: all you need to do is type “say” followed by what you’d like your Mac to say.
This is fun in and of itself, but you could also put it to work if you wanted. You could, for example, use the “sleep” command to tell your Mac to “say” something at some point in the future. For example:
sleep 25m; say take a break
Would cause your Mac to say “take a break” in 25 minutes. You could use this as an improvised Pomodoro timer.
If you’d rather not mess with the command line, and just want to make your Mac say things, you could download an app like Toau. It’s quite nice, and offers a pause button for reading. Alternatively, you could use the free app text2speech, which also works.
Yesterday’s Future, Today
Ever since Star Trek it’s been a science fiction trope: computers that talk to you. The reality is we have this technology today, but rarely use it. If you’re a Windows user who feels left out don’t worry: there are ways to make your Windows computer talk to you.
Is the Mac’s text to speech functionality a valuable feature, or just a gimmick? Share your thoughts and use-case scenarios in the comments, below.