Text-to-Speech on Mac OS X

My wife is a graduate student who spends most of her time reading a ton of articles for her classes.  Once a week, she has to drive an hour and a half to Detroit for work.  One night, she was worried that she’d have enough time to work in Detroit and read all of her articles.  The proverbial light bulb went off in my head and I remembered a feature that Mac OS X has had since Jaguar (2002): Text to Speech.

Previously, I could just select a block of text, then go to the current application menu, click “Services,” then “Speak selected text.”  However, Apple seems to have removed this feature in Snow Leopard.  After a little digging, I found it again.  Here’s how to get it working:

(Note: click the images to get a full view)

Open System Preferences (either click the spotlight search magnifying glass in the top left and type “System Preferences” or find System Preferences in the Applications folder).

Click the “Keyboard” icon toward the middle/top.

Click the “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab at the top.

In the left pane, select the “Services” item.  In the right pane, scroll down and check the box next to “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.”

This will add an item to the “Services” submenu when you open the main application menu in any program.

For example, let’s open a page in Safari and convert the text to speech.

We’ll go to http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html and convert the poem to a sound file.

In Safari, browse to http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html

Highlight all of the text.  It’s OK if some images get in there, they should be ignored by the Text to Speech conversion.

In the top menu (next to the Apple) click “Safari”, then click “Services” and then click “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.”

You should see a spinning cog in your top menu bar as Mac OS creates an audio file for you and putting it in iTunes. Click the spinning cog if you want to cancel.

When the cog disappears, there should be a new playlist in iTunes called “Spoken Text.”  In it, you’ll see a track called “Text to Speech.”  You can rename this to “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and copy the track to your iPod.

And that’s it!  Enjoy your free audio books!


If you’d like to change the voice of the computer’s reader, there are six standard voices you can choose from.  Simply go to System Preferences, click “Speech”, then click the “Text to Speech” tab, then select the voice you want from the “System voice” drop-down list.  The voice you select here will be used the next time you use the “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” service menu item.