On listening to text-to-speech in 2015

On listening to text-to-speech in 2015

Starting with the Kindle 2, Amazon provided text-to-speech with their EBRs (E-Book Readers).

Text-to-speech is software which reads a book out loud to you.

It’s very different from an audiobook, which has been recorded.

That matters, because creating an audiobook clearly falls under the rights of the rightsholder of the book (initially, the author), while text-to-speech is more like increasing the font size…it’s just a way to access the material, without creating another copy (since TTS is “streaming”, ephemeral).

Ever since the K2, I have listened to TTS typically for hours a week in the car.

It’s my preferred audio in the car…I like it a lot better than talk radio, or music. I’m also not a fan of audiobooks, unless I’ve already read the book. I don’t like the reader (be it the author or an actor) interpreting the characters for me.

TTS has improved a lot since the K2!

I created a thread in the Amazon Kindle forum (six years ago today!) pointing out some of the

Tomisms (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s what I called the quirky things about the voice, which was then known as “Tom”.

Almost all of those are fixed now.

Ivona, which we have now, has inflection. For example, it uses the appropriate rising inflection to indicate a question.

You can read more about the process of how it’s done in this

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

It almost always pronounces things correctly, now.

One problem it still has is with homographs (words that are spelled the same but mean different things). For example, I was listening today, and a character left the room with a bow. You know that should rhyme with “now”, but the TTS read it as rhyming like “know”. In other words, it sounded like the person left with a package decoration, rather than inclining at the waist.

I find it also misses on “wind”. A road might be “winding”, not rhyming with “finding”, but sounding like it is blowing a breath.

One more I hear quite a bit: it makes the wrong choice on “wound”. It generally pronounces it like the injury, rather than rhyming it with “found”. So, saying that a scarf was wrapped around someone may make it sound like it took a bite out of them. 😉

One other odd one: it pronounces “lower” to rhyme with “flower”, not “grower”. Of course, try to explain to a non-English speaker how we pronounce “flower grower”, and make English sound logical!

However, it’s generally very impressive.

In a book I’m reading now, for example, it correctly pronounced Edinburgh…not ending like Pittsburgh, but ending in two syllables,  sort of like a New York borough, but softer.

This book is

The Winter Sea (at AmazonSmile*)

which was recommended to me by one of my regular readers and commenters, Lady Galaxy.

It’s part of

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and I was ready to start another book, so I’m reading it now. 🙂

I am typically reading several books at the same time, which is true in this case, but I also usually have a main one for the commute…and I moved this one up in the list.

One interesting point is that there is a lot of dialect in the book, as Lady Galaxy pointed out to me.

I don’t at all know if it’s accurate, but it’s intended to represent a particular Scotch dialect.

For example, here are a couple of lines:

“It winna dee ye ony good, it disna ring. The salt fae the sea ruins the wiring, fast as I fix it.”

Without that dialect (and it refers to a doorbell), it would read, “It wouldn’t do you any good, it doesn’t ring. The salt from the sea ruins the wiring…”

How did TTS handle it?

About the same way most people would, I’d say. I didn’t have any more trouble understanding TTS speaking it than I would have sight reading it, I believe.

That also impresses me.

However, in

Spinster’s Gambit (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

it was quite baffled by a person’s name, “Jacoline”. English speaking people would read that as very much like Jacqueline, or Jacklyn…it read it more like it, “Jack OH lyn”, something like that.

Generally, though, I think most people are surprised at how good it is.

Our devices are becoming much more conversational, both in how they speak and how they listen.

I am disappointed, honestly, that the currently available non-Fire EBRs from Amazon don’t have sound at all…which means they don’t do TTS (or music or audiobooks).

I’m guessing it makes them cheaper and more reliable, and perhaps lighter. It’s possible that some people even told Amazon they preferred it, because they found music a distraction…don’t know about that.

I’m listening to TTS on my

Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (at AmazonSmile*)

which is also why it can use the text-to-speech software it uses.

Eventually, I think we will get a non-backlit EBR with TTS again.

After all, everything may start speaking. It may be like the toaster on Red Dwarf, or the talking bomb in the now obscure John Carpenter movie,

Dark Star (at AmazonSmile*)

It seems unlikely to me that my toothbrush will talk to me, but my books won’t. 😉

What do you think? Do you use TTS? How do you feel about the Voyage, for example, not having it? Does it throw you off when it mispronounces something, or are you able to let it go? Does it affect your understanding? My guess is that I’m unusually well able to cope with the mispronunciations, but I haven’t seen studies. Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


23 Responses to “On listening to text-to-speech in 2015”

  1. Rachel Trindle Says:

    I miss text to speech on my paperwhite — one of the reasons I hold on to my K2. I never used it as much as you report, but I do value it. Additionally, it’s a huge feature for people who have print disabilities as my son does. He has CP and vision impairment that make reading difficult for him, so to have a reliable and relatively inexpensive means of speech generated books is huge.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Rachel!

      Absolutely…TTS is a great feature both for those with print disabilities, and those with print challenges which do not rise to the legal definition of a disability.

      I have a sibling with CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) who does well with a tablet.

      That’s something you might want to consider for your son. The Fire tablets have quite a few accessibility functions (although I do wish they had better voice commands). When you are looking at the price, even the $99 model has TTS. The kids’ tablet is $25 off right now, making it $124…if your son is at increased drop risk, that might be one to consider.

      The current Paperwhite is $119…more than the Fire tablet (I’m looking at the least expensive configurations in these comparisons).

      Your Kindle 2 was introduced at $359…

      If you did try it, it does fall under Amazon’s generous 30 day return policy, so you could see if it works well for your son.

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I hope you enjoy “The Winter Sea.” I know you usually read all books to the bitter end whether you like them or not, and this one is rather long!

    Despite the fact that I have myasthenia gravis, which causes eye muscle weakness and double vision, I don’t use text to speech often. I’m not really an auditory learner and when things are read to me, my mind wanders off, but I like having it available for times when I can’t see well enough to read. For example, when I got home after an eye exam where they had to super dilate my pupils, I couldn’t see enough to even watch TV, so i was able to use text to speech to have a book read to me. A few weeks ago, the power went out after dark, so I used text to speech then as well.

    I know you were asking about text to speech specifically, but in general, I’m not at all happy with my Voyage for so many reasons. I don’t like it that my Voyage doesn’t have text to speech or the ability to use active content. I’m still mad at myself for not sending it back when that was still a possibility. Now, I’m stuck with it. If it had been my first Kindle, it would probably also have been my last Kindle.

    It’s too small. I get a “crick” in my neck from having to look further down the page than I have to look on the Kindles with keyboards. It hurts my hands to hold it and use the touch controls. My thumb gets sore just from holding it.The touch controls even on the light setting require too much pressure for folks with arthritis and other hand problems. I don’t like the fact that almost all books on it display with full justification which looks really ragged at larger font sizes. I don’t like that there are a lot of font sizes in the itsy bitsy to teeny weeny range without much in between and very few in larger font sizes. The font size I use on my other Kindles is 3rd from largest. I have to use 2nd from largest on the Voyage to get the same font size.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’m sorry that you don’t like the Voyage better!

      I didn’t go to a Voyage, because I’m quite happy with the Paperwhite 2. I just didn’t see new features that justified the higher cost for me…and as you note, it has at least one significant takeaway (active content). I’m sure there are many people who are happy with it, but I’ll be interested to see what they do with future models.

  3. Zebras Says:


    I have recently got back into using the TTS a lot, and I’m using it on my Kindle Touch. Its my backup Kindle, as it has power issues, and needs to be charged a lot, so I only want to use it where I can charge it. I don’t think I would want to listen to books where I really need to focus on the details, like a mystery. But I’ve been listening to Michener’s Alaska and its working out really well, even with the pronounciations of Alaskan native names and Russian names, etc.

    In the past, I have found TTS very helpful when I am struggling to concentrate on a book. I’m going to revisit Edward Rutherferd’s Russka next, as I had gotten stuck somewhere in the middle of that one.

    I have gotten used to translating the homographs in my head as they happen, so they don’t throw me off too much.

    I loved The Winter Sea. Have read almost all of her other stuff, but that is by far the best one.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I’m sensing a bit of a theme with what you are reading…I can see Russia from your bookshelf. 😉

      I took three years of Russian in high school. I’m not at all conversational, but I still know a bit of it (our now adult kid, who is a linguist, is fluent in Russian).

      I was amused by the Stanley Kubrick movie version of A Clockwork Orange. Many people thought Malcolm McDowell’s character was using “Horror Show” as an expression of approval. It was actually хорошо (“horosho”), Russian for “that’s good”, or “cool”. 🙂 The author Anthony Burgess was showing a cultural influence of Russia on British youth, which would certainly have been a controversial suggestion at the time.

  4. Man in the Middle Says:

    The lack of TTS on the Voyage delayed our replacement of our Kindle 3 (keyboard) until I accidentally broke its screen.
    We then bought both a Voyage and a Fire 6, expecting the Fire to be useful for TTS. I ended up returning the Fire, as not enough different from our Android cell phone and iPad Mini tablet to justify keeping one more device around.
    If a new Voyage appeared with TTS, we’d upgrade immediately. Alternatively, we’d love to see TTS added to the Kindle app on our cell phone and tablet, even if it cost something extra.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      I can understand your feeling on the speechless Voyage, certainly.

      Just a clarification: you didn’t like the TTS on the Fire, or you just expected to use it for more things beyond that?

      I think we may see a reflective screen (like the Voyage) device with TTS again in the future. Another possibility to me is a wearable for TTS, audiobooks, and music…

  5. Sherry Says:

    I love text to speech. I read at least 3 books a week and I listen in the car, while cooking, doing laundry or whatever. I have had to replace several kindles after dropping them. If I didn’t use my test to speech so much it would take me much longer to read a book since I would have to find time to set down and read.

    I would love a paperwhite but I’m forced to stick with buying old Kindle Keyboards from ebay. The latest Kindle Fire HD has the feature but it’s too heavy and bulking to carry constantly. I also do not like audio books. The speakers are too dramatic.

    Each time I hear of a new Kindle being released I hope that we can finally get a Paperwhite with tts but so far I’m always disappointed.

    Please Amazon, give us a e-reader with Text to Speech.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sherry!

      I’d love to see that myself!

      I think that you might find that the Fire tablet is not as heavy as you think. The Paperwhite weighs 206 grams (or 215 with 3G…that “antenna” weighs something, I guess).

      These are the dimensions:

      6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ (169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm)

      The 6″ Fire (the same size screen as the Paperwhite) weighs 290 grams…a U.S. penny weighs about 2.5 grams, I think…so, that’s…about thirty-three pennies. 🙂 Yes, that’s a noticeable weight, but not huge. It’s also worth noting that the Fire 6 is just about the same weight (actually, a tiny bit lighter) as the first generation Kindle.

      Morphologically, it is bigger, but again, not hugely.

      6.7″ X 4.1″ X 0.4″
      (169 X 103 X 10.7 mm)

      I’m not saying it’s as good for sight-reading…it’s not, but it’s not that far off in size to carry for TTS. I do sight-reading and TTS on my Kindle Fire HDX 7″ when I’m away from the house at work, and on my Paperwhite at home…

      I agree, though, a Paperwhite with audio would be a desirable model!

      • Sherry Says:

        Thanks for the infor. My husband has the Fire HD and I have used the text to speech feature on it before but I didn’t care for it. I do appreciate any recommendation though.

  6. skubitwo Says:

    I am writing a question for a friend. I myself have KKB, Paperwhite, Fire HD and Fire (the beginning ones, 2nd and 3rd gen), App for PC, and App for Android
    My friend will be undergoing a cochlear implant surgery this summer, which will require some brain training as she begins to hear. One recommendation from her doctors is to read and listen to a book at the same time like immersion. She is curious about Kindles, but on limited income. She has a PC, but no Kindles of any kind, no tablets, no cell phones, just a PC laptop. What would be your best advice for a Kindle option that will do Text to Speech? In language for Kindle illiterates, so I can explain it to her. Would the app for PC with a screen reader like Microsoft Narrator be an option? I’ve heard a lot of people say that it doesn’t work – Amazon disabled the accessibility plugin for the app since it’s a free app. I have not tried that, so I don’t know. Perhaps it only works with Windows 8?
    errr, and I’m sure lots of readers will suggest she buy an apple product, or the top of the line Fire, but I’m looking for an affordable, limited income option for her, especially since this is not a permanent thing she will be doing. Any hints would be swell.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, skubitwo!

      While I greatly prefer text-to-speech over audiobooks, I would think that for brain training (especially for someone perhaps hearing for the first time) that actual recorded speech would be better. You might want to check with the doctors on that. One of my key concerns would be intonation…that has to be complicated in the beginning, and TTS, while it has gotten much better at pronunciation, still isn’t as natural for intonation (the “music” of speech…the higher and lower pitches at the appropriate points).

      If that’s the case, you would be looking at these devices:

      Kindle Fire 2nd Generation
      Kindle Fire HD
      Kindle Fire HDX
      Fire HD
      Fire HDX
      Kindle for Android

      If you could possibly give her your 2nd gen Kindle Fire, and maybe replace it with a more recent model, that would be one way to go.

      If text-to-speech is okay, then yes, the plug-in works. These are the requirements:

      Because this software is an assistive technology, there are no restrictions on text-to-speech reading. In order to use the text-to-speech feature, an external screen reader program must be installed and running on the Windows PC. The external screen reader is used to read aloud menus and navigation items, while book text is read by a built-in text-to-speech engine. Tested screen readers include JAWS, NVDA, and Microsoft Narrator.

      In addition, your Windows PC must meet the minimum system requirements needed for Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin:

      Supported Operating Systems: Windows XP with Service Pack 2+, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
      Memory: 1 GB RAM
      Free hard disk space: 300MB

      I have to say, I find this belief you report illustrative of people who aren’t optimists like me:

      “I’ve heard a lot of people say that it doesn’t work – Amazon disabled the accessibility plugin for the app since it’s a free app. I have not tried that, so I don’t know. Perhaps it only works with Windows 8?”


      Why would think Amazon would disable it since it’s a free app…when Amazon has many free Kindle apps that they haven’t disabled? Since this one has the added benefit of serving the disabled consumer (and that’s a large reading group), that would make it seem even less logical to me.

      They don’t list Windows 8 as one of the compatible ones, so it’s the opposite of what was suggested…it does work with some older versions of Windows, but not with 8. Perhaps it will work with Windows 10 when it is released later this year. From what you are telling me, I’d be surprised if your friend has Windows 8 at this point.

      I’m always interested in accessibility issues, so I appreciate you asking! You can also contact Amazon directly by e-mailing:


  7. skubitwo Says:

    Thank you! No, she does not have Windows 8, so maybe we can try that route with Windows 7. I am glad of your prompt reply as I am meeting with her and her husband in a couple days to show her how the text-to-speech works on my KF and KKB, so I will be able to present that as yet another option. I think she already has access to audio books through our library, but the thought was that the more direct link to the word image and speech sound that TTS has might be somehow desirable – maybe better, maybe just another option. My husband pointed out that Project Gutenberg can provide free books in .txt format that MS Word can read out loud as you highlight text, so that’s another option, just a bit clumsier than the kindles….and I was going to offer to loan her whichever of one of my kindles she thought she’d like. I’m still amazed at how much the KKB does. They’re still out there for sale by third parties and the like. It’s one I always take traveling because the charge lasts so freaking long for reading!
    Thanks again!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, skubitwo!

      Project Gutenberg also provides free audiobooks.

      The Immersion Reading is, I would think, the one the doctors would most want…but I would ask them. The words “light up” on the page as they are being read. That one is only available on the tablet models, not on things like the Kindle Keyboard.

      I would also demonstrate TTS (text-to-speech) to your friend on your later Fires. The software is vastly improved there…I’ve been using TTS regularly since the Kindle 2, and the difference is quite striking.

      The Kindle Keyboard (AKA Kindle 3) is a great model. Amazon does sell certified refurbished Kindles/Fires:

      Certified Refurbished Kindles/Fires (at AmazonSmile)

      although I don’t see any Kindle Keyboards right now.

      One last thing to consider: there are a lot of e-book/audiobook combos available through Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 a month. I realize that might be out of your friend’s range, but I believe she could still get the first month free. Memberships can also be gifted…

  8. Sherry Says:

    I check out ebooks from our local library. Be sure to check on Amazon they have text to speech.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sherry!

      Yes, that’s a good point.

      While nothing needs to be done to a book to enable text-to-speech (that’s why a Fire/Kindle which can do text-to-speech can read personal documents to you), some publishers choose to block the access. That will be indicated on the book’s Amazon product page.

  9. Scott L. Sammons Says:

    I too have used tts extensively, and love it very much. I go from k2, k3, paperweight (hated it, use it for loaning out only) and now the fire, my wife has the fire xd, and the fire phone. I miss the screen from the k2 & k3, but they proved to be too fragile for my use.

    My question now regards my fire getting stuck booting while reading. If I pause, then start it reads a while further, then gets stuck again. Also some silly graphics used by publishers to denote chapter breaks hang it up.

    As for tomisms; the uplift in the phrase “in the dark” stood out in a book recently. I am using the British female voice currently, but miss the ease of switching male to female voices that I had with the k3.

    Any help with the tts hanging up, will be appreciated.

    Sent from my Kindle Fire,
    [e-mail address removed for privacy]

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Scott!

      I’ve also run into that issue with graphics…it’s not common, but it happens.

      Have you restarted the Fire? Unplug it and hold in the power button for thirty seconds. Depending on the model of your Fire, you might need to push the power button again to start, or it may restart on its own.

      You could also try going into

      Settings – Applications – Manage All Applications – Ivona TTS

      and clearing the cache and force stopping it.

      • Scott L. Sammons Says:

        Thanks for the lead on clearing the cache, I am sure that is the key.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Scott!

        Let me know if that works for you…

      • sls4ak Says:

        Epic fail! It made mo difference, cleared the cache and it still got hung up every twenty or so pages. hit pause, hit run it picks up like nothing ever held it up. The *buffering* symbol keeps turning. I liked the idea of it being a full ram cache, butif it is that isnotwheretoclearit.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, sls4ak!

        I apologize, but I don’t understand your comment…

        “Epic fail” would suggest something more than an attempted solution not working (that would seem like a mundane fail). ; Did something break when you tried a fix?

        Since you say “buffering” symbol, I assume you are using a Fire tablet? Do you know which model?

        Could you clarify this? “…butif it is that isnotwheretoclearit”

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