Both audiobooks and text-to-speech (TTS) can help kids who have reading issues like . These types of assistive technology let kids listen to a book being read aloud as they look at the words. But audiobooks and TTS are different in key ways. Use this chart to find out the differences.
What it is
• An audio recording of a book being read aloud
• A technology that speaks aloud digital text, such as books, news articles, magazine articles and websites, on a computer or mobile device
Type of reading voice
• Human voice
• Computer-generated voice
How the voice sounds
Audiobooks are usually read aloud by actors. Because a person reads the text, audiobook readings tend to include things like:
• Changes in tone and emotion
• Pauses in the reading at natural places, like at the end of sentences
There are many different TTS voices. As technology improves, the voices sound more and more natural. But since TTS is a digital voice and not a human voice, the reading may have:
• Words pronounced wrong.
• Pauses in places that don’t make sense.
• Words read in a tone or with an emotion that doesn’t make sense.
• Typically a digital file. Audiobooks are often formatted as MP3 files that can be played on a computer or mobile phone.
• Software or program. Many electronic devices come with TTS built in. TTS is also available in a wide range of apps and programs.
How it’s used with visual text
• Kids listen to the book read aloud. They may have a printed copy of the book and turn the pages to follow along. Or they may follow the words on a screen.
• Kids listen to the text spoken aloud as they follow the words on a screen.
• Most audiobooks don’t highlight words as they’re read aloud.
• However, some newer versions of audiobooks sync the audio recording to digital text. In that case kids can hear words read and see them highlighted on a screen.
• Many TTS tools highlight words as they are spoken.
Moving around in the text
• You can jump around to different parts of an audiobook. But it can be hard to find a specific passage or sentence, since you have to rewind or fast forward to locate it.
• Some newer audiobooks sync with digital text. In that case, you can scroll or use Control/Command+F to search for chapters, page numbers, and even words.
• With TTS, it’s easy to find a specific part of a book. You can search the table of contents or look for particular words using Control/Command+F. TTS then reads the text that’s found.
What to know about cost
• An audiobook is a recording of just one specific book. You can buy an audiobook for every book your child wants to read. Or you can use a service and pay a yearly fee for as many audiobooks as your child chooses to read.
• Audiobooks can be free or inexpensive. You might find them at your local library.
• Newer types of audiobooks that sync to digital text cost more but can still be reasonably priced.
• TTS software can be used for any digital text. Once you have it, you can use it for multiple book and for other uses, such as reading email.
• TTS software may be free if it’s built into a mobile phone, tablet, or other device.
• TTS programs can range in price. Many come with more natural-sounding voices and features like a built-in dictionary or the option to speed up or slow down the reading speed.
Where to find it
Some places to look for audiobooks:
Some places to look for TTS resources:
• Bookshare, a project of Benetech, a nonprofit organization and Understood founding partner
• Mobile devices (those using iOS or Android have free TTS features)
Learn more about where to find free audiobooks and digital TTS books, including online sources like Bookshare.
Understanding the differences between audiobooks and TTS can help you select the right assistive technology for your child. Many kids with reading issues use both audiobooks and TTS for support. They choose between the two depending on the type of reading they need to do.
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About the author
About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Sean J. Smith, PhD a professor of special education at the University of Kansas, specializes in technology-based solutions for students.