Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Listening to your Text

Listening to your Text

By Louis Loeffler
Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Instructional Technology - Cardinal Stritch University

I do a bit of driving as well as other activities where an mp3 player comes in handy.  While driving I will listen to a variety of podcasts or my favorite music. Recently I decided it would also be a good use of my time to have some of the articles that I am asked to read for a class I am taking at UWMadison available in audio form - so in this way I replace reading with listening. 

It turns out this is done rather simply by software - there are a variety of Text to MP3 software programs available. I choose (since I am using a Macintosh) TextToMp3 (

According to the web site, "TextToMP3 is a simple droplet program which accepts dropped text files and converts them into speech in MP3 format using Apple's Speech Manager technology and the open-source LAME MP3 encoder." This means that you simply need to have a text file, drag and drop it on the program, and it generates an MP3 file for you.  It works for any file with ".txt" as the extension.

Creating the txt file is fairly simple.  Most word processors have a Save as feature which allows you to save the document you are working with/viewing as a text file - eliminating the formatting (italics, bold, font size, etc).  Once saved I could create the mp3, move it onto my mp3 player and voila!

I ran into a problem though, my document that was assigned was a pdf - I needed a simple way to convert pdf files to txt files.  I did some searching and while software and/or translation websites existed, they either had a price associated with them or gave me unsatisfactory results.

I then turned to a feature available in Gmail. If you have ever received a document as an attachment in GMail you know that one of the features is to view the attachment as HTML. This includes pdf documents.  So I emailed the pdf document to myself, and when I received it I was able to view as HTML!

Once it was in HTML format I was able to highlight the text, copy it, and paste it in a simple word processor which would allow me to save the file as txt.  Once it was txt I ran TextToMP3 and I had the audio file - getting my reading done has become easier - by having the document read to me.

So the steps in this process are:
  1. Email (using Gmail) yourself the pdf attachment (if the document is in PDF form)
  2. View the attachment as HTML
  3. Highlight the words in the HTML document - then copy
  4. Paste into a word processor
  5. Save as Text file (.txt)
  6. Convert using a Text to MP3 piece of software

I see uses for this as we work towards differentiating or assisting students with reading difficulties.  Easily and quickly you can take a reading assignment and convert it to a format where students may hear what they are reading.


Additionally you might want to try this web resource with your text file.

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