Disability and "Voz Me"
It’s basically a simple text to voice synthesizer that you can plug into your blog so that it “speaks.” I was a little sceptical when I found it, as the speech it produces sounds pretty artificial, although admittedly it does sound bit better than Microsoft’s own brand voice synthesizer included in Windows.
I now think it’s interesting not so much as a language teaching tool, though it might also be interesting also for language students to listen to their writing read by a computer, but more as a tool to aid user-accessibility.
A good friend of mine teaches a severely autistic boy, who cannot speak except to copy mono-syllabic sounds one by one. He is, however, an exceptionally talented writer, whose prose I could never match in a million years. This boy can express himself in such fantastic, imaginative ways that you would never guess that he has any sort of disability at all. In actual fact he finds writing quite difficult and needs the help of an assistant when he types as he cannot withdraw his arms from the keyboard easily.
We were talking together the other day about blogs, as I thought that it might be a good way for this boy to anonymously publish his work and get a readership for it without the stigma of “disability.” He is fully concious of his disability and often tells people, via his keyboard, “Even though I make look like this, I’m not stupid.”
Then I started thinking, this Voz Me tool could really work wonders for this boy. He would not only be able to write his amazing stories and share them with people, but he would also be able to hear them read by someone. This would be surely be really interesting and stimulating for him.
So I went about setting up a blog and including the Voz Me tool in its template. It works very well actually, but unfortunately it only has an English and a Spanish version at the moment. When reading Italian text (my friend’s autistic boy is Italian) the voice sounds awful. It’s got a real comedy English accent!
So, now I’m going to look around for an Italian equivalent of Voz Me for this boy’s blog. I think it would be wonderful for him to be able to “Hear” his own stories being read out loud, even if it sounds quite artificial. In the meantime, have a listen to this post for yourself. It’s not bad sounding is it? If you want to try this tool out on your blog or website, you can download the script from: http://vozme.com/index.php?lang=en.
The tool itself is very clever. It allows you to both listen to the text from a blog posting as well as download the voice recording as an mp3. ( you can see the small “Hear this post” link at the bottom of this posting here – give it a try.)
So the verdict: Voz Me is perhaps too limited for teaching languages, but certainly would be very useful to some teachers. As with all these web 2.0 tools, the only thing holding us back are our imaginations. I’m sure there will be some clever uses we can put this tool to in our classrooms as well.