Make Your Browser Read to You

Photo: Student listening to headphones

Student listening to headphones

This is the third installment in the series Exploring Useful Browser Extensions. Previous tools highlighted in the series include The Great Suspender and Clearly.

As more and more readings are being shared online, students are routinely being asked to read on screens. While everyone has preferences about their own reading experiences, there are some distinct advantages that often go underused when a text goes digital. One underused advantage of digital texts are the number of text-to-speech options available.

One elegant solution for listening to text in the Chrome browser is Announcify. Once the Chrome extension is installed, a simple click of a button will have the computer reading from any page on the web.

Image: Clearly, a Google Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store

Clearly, a Google Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store

However, Announcify does more than just read the text on screen aloud. Upon clicking the Announcify button for the page to be read, a new tab or window opens rendering the text reformatted enlarged and without distractions.

Once the voice reads the page title, moving to the main body of the page, the text is blurred except for the section that is being read, much like a teleprompter. The text in focus moves in correspondence with the reading voice, maintaining a narrower easy-to-read section.

As a tool, Announcify can benefit all readers, especially engaged in closer reading or just feeling a bit fatigued. Of course there is an inherent benefit to anyone following along with a text that is being read to them, form time to time. Granted the voice is a robotic one that does not precisely mimic the nuanced reading of a strong human voiceover, it is remarkably better than might be expected.

Even better, its most powerful implications may be for struggling readers. The additional features make this a tool worth exploring. The reformatted text alone is larger and free of all distractions on a typical webpage that can derail the reading experience, much like Clearly.

However, the narrower text focus feature may be the best reason for using Announcify. By narrowing the text in focus to a section being voiced, a struggling reader is less likely to grow discouraged from the volume of text on the screen. The extension automatically chunks the text for the reader, making the reading experience more manageable, as well as assisting with pace control.

A dyslexic student, for example, who must work harder than most just to decode the words on screen, can greatly benefit. A tool like Announcify can assist in maintaining that reader’s comprehension, flow, and concentration, alleviating some potential anxiety and difficulty.

There are a handful of setting options that are available, allowing users to adjust the pace, pitch, and even voice. The voice options are dependent upon on what is currently available on the computer though the operating system of the computer being used. Adjusting these options allows a small degree of fine tuning to suit individual preference.

Currently, Announcify is only available as a Chrome extension or Android app. Being a browser extension means it works on the Macbook Airs in use at the high school or Chromebooks in use at the middle school, as well as many bring-your-own-devices.

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