Creating native-like but comprehensible listening texts for EFL learners using NaturalReader
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“Native English speakers are often thought to bring benefits to English as a foreign language (EFL) classrooms. The native speaker is often called upon to answer vocabulary and pronunciation issues from non-native speakers (Medgyes, 1994). Within this perspective, the native speaker is believed to promote the best model for language users (see Carless, 2006; Lasagabaster & Sierra, 2002) and may encourage extrinsic motivation for EFL learners (Carless, 2006; Harmer, 2007), particularly in listening sessions. However, many EFL learners encounter difficulty in comprehending the speech of native speakers. Speech rate is believed to be one of the factors leading to such problems (see Griffiths, 1991; Hirai, 1999).
Text-to-speech (TTS) technologies, which allow users to “make the computer talk” by transforming text input into speech, offer one way to control the speed of the input learners receive (Handley, 2009, p. 906). Although speech synthesis was originally developed for people with visual impairments (Kilickaya, 2006), some teachers have begun to adopt TTS technology in foreign language classrooms. Handley (2009) states that integration of TTS within the computer-assisted language learning (CALL) environment may involve three different roles: reading machine, pronunciation model, and dialogue partner. In reference to these roles, TTS technology offers increased opportunities for EFL learners to access the target language with a native-like, but accessible model.
NaturalReader, originally developed by NaturalSoft Ltd in Canada, is TTS synthesis software that promotes natural voice conversion from text input. With supplementary add-in and floating bar features, the software is not only able to carry out text-to-speech conversion from MS office documents, PDFs, webpages, and email, but also to convert these texts into audio files in MP3 or WAV formats (NaturalReader, 2014). The advanced version 12 of this software now has made optical character recognition (OCR) possible, and this makes the number and types of texts available for TTS conversion even greater.
This article describes the basic operational functionality and features of NaturalReader as a text-to-speech synthesis system. It will also discuss some ways that NaturalReader may be used to facilitate the provision of native-like, but comprehensible input to EFL learners. ”