• May 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

British Government Makes Investment in Literacy

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The U.K. Department for Business Innovation and Skills awarded text-to-speech company CereProc a government contract to create two TTS voices for use in education. The contract covers the cost of development and makes the voices available for free download by students and educators.
CereProc, based in the United Kingdom, was selected to create the two voices, one male and one female, to be used by school districts across England as part of the Voices for Learners project. The stated goal of this project is to improve and encourage the use of TTS tools among disabled students.
“The aim, from the government perspective, is to get TTS used more widely among students in general, but particularly by students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities and for whom English is a second language,” says Chris Pidcock, a cofounder and chief voice engineer at CereProc.
The potential reach for this application is about 6.5 million students across
England. “There are a lot of students with problems with literacy,” Pidcock says. “This could improve their grades and
their learning.”
The government program also worked to overcome a major problem with TTS voices in the educational market thus far. “All the voices are too formal. They’re middle-aged and not very age-appropriate,” Pidcock states.
After a good deal of research, and a fair amount of trial and error, CereProc found that a northern English accent for the female voice and a mid-London accent for the male voice had the widest appeal.
“The main issue was selecting the right voices,” Pidcock says. “We had to get that right.”
The voice applications can be used on Windows PCs or Macs and are compatible with many screen readers and other widely used applications. They can convert any text documents into audio files with a simple cut and paste. The audio files can be saved and downloaded to an MP3 player or other audio player.
“Students will be able to learn in different ways, maybe through an MP3 player on the way to school,” Pidcock says.
“Supporting our belief that the development of an extensive range of TTS voices of all accents, ages, and styles is the best approach to increasing its uptake and reducing any stigma attached to its use, the backing of the project demonstrates a forward-looking attitude that voice interaction is an important tool for delivering information and will become even more critical and inclusive in the future,” Pidcock continues.
“Our general approach is that this makes the technology used more widely beyond just putting it into an IVR to read back your bank balance,” he adds. “It’s much more useful than that.”
The two new voices created for the Voice for Learners project join a host of other voices built by CereProc for use within education. The company’s Scottish female voice, Heather, is available free of charge to educational establishments across Scotland, while the Scottish male voice, Stuart, developed with Scottish government funding, provides support for those requiring assistive technology. 

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