Text to Speech with Read&Write for Google Chrome

What it Does and Why

The Read&Write for Google Chrome extension (free) contains a number of different tools. The first and most visible is its ability to read Google Docs aloud (TTS, text-to-speech). When paired with the Texthelp PDF Reader extension (free), web-hosted1 PDFs may also be read aloud. In addition to reading the document aloud, the read-aloud function highlights each word as it is read. I have found in my own experience that I am able listen and read faster in this way, having the document read aloud to me, than I can read to myself. Having a document read aloud has a number of implications for student learning.

A few of these include:
  • Comprehension - Having a document read aloud can help a student better comprehend the material.2 It can also assist those who are non-native speakers.  
  • Document Review - Have a document read aloud provides an easy means for all students to proof their work. This could also be used as a tool by instructors, using the tool to read papers aloud in order to grade, rather than (or in addition to) reading. 
  • Using these tools is a way to implement universal design in a class. There may be students with undocumented disability in a class. This tool can support them.
Read & Write for Google Chrome offers other tools that can assist students. One such capability is to highlight in different colors. Highlighting can then become contextual. A student could highlight nouns or main ideas in one color and definitions or supporting information in another. The power of this comes as the tool has the ability to pull all of the highlights into a single Google Doc. the new document includes the highlights in the order they were in the original and a link back to the original source.

There are some caveats to making this work. The first is that for PDFs the document must be OCRed - the text must be searchable. These extensions will not work if this is not done. The quality of the OCR may also be a factor. I have posted about OCR before. This post talks about OCR and how to get a good quality scan. This post shares about a possible problem with OCR and how to fix it.

The second caveat is that a PDF must be hosted on the web for this to work. If the document may be accessed through a URL (web address) then the extensions will work fine. This is an instance where Google Drive can be a real asset to an instructor. Saving and sharing PDFs with a class through Drive will allow the students to use these tools. You can see a video introduction of how the extension works in the embedded video below.




Go Mobile

One way to take PDF read-aloud further is to go mobile. Doing so removes the confines of time and space, freeing the reader to to so when is convenient for them. There are two free apps that I have found that are good for this purpose: @Voice for Android and Natural Reader3 for iOS.

Both apps have the following functions:
  • connect to Google Drive to open a document
  • book mark phrases as they are read
  • highlight the text being read as it is read
  • adjust the speed of the speech
Natural Reader does offer a web tool and downloadable application (free or paid - Mac/Win).

Links and Resources

Read&Write for Google  Chrome Walkthrough - This is a thorough walk-through which shows all of the tools in R&W for Google Chrome with the exception of the PDF reader.

Read&Write for Google Chrome Extension
Texthelp PDF Reader Extension


1. Texthelp PDF Reader will only read PDFs which are hosted online (i.e. on the web, or Google Drive). It will not read PDF files saved to a computer.  PDF files may be read aloud on a computer with the Natural Reader application linked above or a paid application called Read & Write Gold.
2. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,cpid&custid=s6221971&db=ehh&AN=52961998&site=ehost-live&scope=site
3. Both the free versions of Natural Reader limit the read-aloud to three minutes of uninterrupted time. The user may click to dismiss the pop-up and continue to have the document read aloud for another three minutes without interruption.

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