With latest text-to-speech abilities added to software, reading through lines of text may now become optional for those who prefer a faster, more accessible alternative. Converting text into speech within a browser can be done with a Chrome extension called SpeakIt!
SpeakIt! lets you highlight any text from a website and converts it into speech. The extension uses text-to-speech technology and can detect over 50 languages. In addition to US and UK English, the extension can also translate text into Spanish, Chinese, French, Italian and Russian, to name a few.
As always, you’ll need to download the extension from the Chrome Web Store. The developer suggests restarting Chrome after downloading the extension, just to make sure it works optimally.
You should now see the speaker icon on the top right corner along with the other extension icons. To enable SpeakIt!, simply highlight text from any website and click on the icon.
The extension should start “reading” the text, and is indicated by the iSpeech logo. The remaining number of sentences is shown along with the animation. The iSpeech logo becomes a Pause button when it’s reading text. You can click on this to pause the audio. This remains paused even when navigating to other tabs within the browser. The remaining number of sentences will also remain on top of the icon until it is resumed or stopped. To stop the audio entirely, click on the stop button on the top left edge of the pause button.
Text-to-speech quality is acceptable, with a few instances of uncommon pauses between words. There are noticeable pauses after punctuation marks like periods and commas, but these also happen even in non-punctuated phrases.
To access the settings page of the extension, you can simply right-click on the speaker icon and click on Options. Here, you can adjust the audio volume and select the text-to-speech engine. The default is iSpeech, and if you don’t intend to use any other engine, this is better left untouched. Volume levels can be adjusted to 100% from its default of 50%, and rate of speech can go as fast as 1500 words per minute.
Under Voice is the drop down list of languages and gender. This is what will be used when enabling the extension. Select one and proceed with testing your choice.
You can test your settings by clicking on the speaker icon beside the sample text under the Testing section.
You can also enable a keyboard shortcut to start SpeakIt! if you prefer not to use the context menu from the speaker icon. Changing this will require Chrome to be restarted before it takes effect.
Note that the extension may not work in some encrypted websites (sites that start with https://) and the Chrome Web Store.
SpeakIt! may not be a must-have tool for everyone, but for those who are keen to multitask while reading or listening to online content, then this is may just come in handy. While it might take a bit of getting used to, this extension makes the text-to-speech experience easier and less complicated.