How to: Speak to your computer

How to ... Speak to your computer. 3 ways speech-to-text can support your writing.


This post will consider the benefits of speech-to-text tools. It will discuss software available at City with speech-to-text capability and also some free options.

It’s that time of year when you might be writing up a dissertation or thesis, or you may be using time over summer to reflect and explore new ways of working. Speech-to-text (also known as dictation or voice activation) could be the tool you’re looking for, helping to take the pain or strain out of typing.

3 ways speech-to-text can support your writing:

  1. Convenience and productivity. Once you get the hang of using dictation software it can be much faster than typing. Additionally, some programmes allow you to create a voice shortcut which can pop a whole phrase into your document.
  2. Neurodiverse learners. If you find it easier to verbalise your ideas, speech-to-text software frees you up to focus on what you want to say instead of on typing, spelling and editing text. Most software successfully does the spelling for you using an integrated dictionary.
  3. Reduce the barriers associated with typing which can cause or worsen fatigue or strain. Some speech to text programmes allow you to control and navigate your way around the computer. In documents you are working on, you can use your voice to format text, correct mistakes and punctuate your work.

Where can I access speech to text?

  • For students registered and referred for this service by Learning Success, Dragon Professional is available in the Assistive Technology Centre (Individual rooms only), Northampton Square Library Level 2.
  • Type with your voice, is available in Google Docs when using the Chrome browser
  • io online dictation . This clever little tool comes with a recommendation from our friends in Learning Success. Emma Allsopp, Neurodiversity Support tutor says:

“ has been so easy to access (via Google Chrome) and then use for transcribing some interviews I’ve been doing with students lately. I’ve avoided the hassles of press, rewind, type, pick up Dictaphone… and instead talked and let the computer do the typing. There are some of the usual hiccups, like study skills became daddy skills and, as for good, well… but it still saved me ages in write-up time. It’s even responsive to punctuation instructions. Worth a try for getting round those writing blocks, whatever shape they come in!”

Some points to consider:

  • It can take a bit of getting used to. The software may not recognise what you are saying straight away and may need a little training.
  • You will need somewhere quiet to use the software – not just so you don’t disturb others, but your microphone will pick up other noises that may effect accuracy.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal speed and volume, speaking too slowly or loudly may effect recognition accuracy.

I used Dragon to draft this article.


McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013) The Dyslexic Adult: Interventions and Outcomes  –  an Evidence-based Approach, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118323373

How to: Hear text “read aloud”

How to hear text "read aloud": 6 ways text-to-speech can support your reading

This post explores text-to-speech as a reading support tool. It will discuss software available at City with text-to-speech capability and also some free options.

Text-to-speech at City

TextHelp Read&Write software is a suite of accessibility and organisational tools in one convenient toolbar, designed to support the reading and writing of students of all abilities. You can use the toolbar with most programmes such as Word documents, PDFs and online content. A key tool in the Read&Write suite is the Text-to-speech reader which can be used to support your reading and writing in several ways:

6 ways text-to-speech can support your reading:

  1. Read&Write reads aloud as it highlights words and passages simultaneously; helping to improve engagement, reading fluency, focus and comprehension.
  2. Text-to-speech supports neurodiverse learners, such as learners with dyslexia. Using text-to-speech software, the emphasis shifts to “listening rather than reading comprehension. Taking away the process of recognising words reduces the load on working memory significantly, and [you] are better able to focus on content.” McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013)
  3. Listening back to written work is a helpful proofreading strategy. This can make it easier to identify mistakes. “It is easier to anticipate what one thinks is on the page, rather than what has actually been written.” McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013). Listening to your whole document can also help you check if the structure is logical and the text flows well.
  4. Improve your productivity: save text as an MP3 file using the Speechmaker tool so you can listen on the go. Find a short taster below.
  5. Listening to and reading text simultaneously can support English language learners.
  6. If your eyes become tired when reading, you can listen to the text instead.

…or you may simply want to experiment with a new way of reading.

You can choose from several synthesised voices and highlighting colour schemes. Synthesised voices are computer generated, they are not human but they do sound fairly natural. Here’s a short taster of a text-to-speech audio file:

Watch the short video to see it in action:

Additional support tools in Read&Write include:

  • Screen masking and tinting can help if you have dyslexia and visual stress.
  • Confusable word (homophone) checker identifies and checks words in your written work which sound similar but have different meanings.
  • Word prediction is a similar tool to predictive text on your phone. You can import your own bank of subject specific vocabulary into the prediction tool.
  • Study skills highlights. Colour code sections of text across documents and collect them into a single document.
  • Where can I find it?

    Read&Write is available to all City students, you can find it in the programmes menu on the student PCs. The software is designed to be tailored to suit your needs and will save your preferences for when you next log-in.

    Other options

    If you don’t work on a PC there are some other tools you could try.


    To activate “Speech” on the iPad follow these simple instructions:
    1. Go to: Settings > General > Accessibility:
    2. Speech: Speak Selection, Speak Screen, Speak Auto-text
    3. Swipe two fingers down the screen to listen to the contents of the screen.

    You can borrow an iPad from the Northampton Square Library service desk.


    Use the Capti app on a City Library iPad. Set up a personal account and you can use the free version of the app to listen to a range of formats such as Word documents, PDFs, webpages and EPUBs. There is also an online version you can use on a pc or mac.

    If you would like to know more, contact me, Jessica Wykes.


    McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013) The Dyslexic Adult: Interventions and Outcomes – an Evidence-based Approach, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118323373

How to: Create a mind map

How to: Create a mind map. 6 ways mindmapping can support your study

Mind mapping is an active and visual way of representing information. Unlike linear notes (traditional notes written out), with a mind map you can view all of your notes on one page and visually identify structure and relationships more effectively.

You can use old fashioned paper and pencils or mind mapping software to create one. Just add your main idea or goal to the centre, then, using keywords add your main topics, and then your sub topics to those and so on.

6 ways mind mapping can support your studies

  1. Planning: You can use mind maps to help plan a project, essay or assignment. Creating a mind map can help you get all your ideas down, hone the structure, and generate and develop new content. Some software allows you to export your map’s hierarchy to a Word document so you can flesh out the bare bones of the framework. (I made a mind map to plan out this article!)
  2. Revision: Create an overview of the subject area. Some software include a notes field for adding longer sections of text. You could use these to enter answers to main questions and test yourself. Mind maps are an active way of learning. They can be multi-sensory – associating colours, images and keywords with information could create a hook for memory recall. You could think about displaying completed maps on a wall so you look at them often.
  3. Notetaking: Make notes from one study text or more using the chapters as thematic structure. This is a more active way to engage with material where there is scope to add your own thoughts and ideas. Again, you can see the overview while also breaking the subject down into manageable sections, making it understandable.
  4. Brainstorming or group projects: Working collaboratively on a mind map helps all members of the group see discussion areas and/or areas of work allocated to them. Mind maps can help you stick to the chosen topics but also stimulate more ideas. Use the large screens in the group study rooms or the technobooths for maximum effect.
  5. Representing complex ideas and concepts: Mind maps can help you easily see how ideas relate to one another and also see the “bigger picture” when it can be easy to get bogged down in detail.
  6. Productivity: Software allows you to move ideas around on the page, export an outline to Word, and add your own notes and links to reading materials.

    A mindmap representing the 6 ways mindmapping can support your studies
    A mind map about mind mapping: 6 ways mindmapping can support your study.

Tony Buzan the originator of mind mapping says that Imagination + Association = Memory. In your mind map try using colour coding, mnemonics, or “memory palace” (Method of Loci) to make examples really come to life (the more vivid, humorous and unusual you make them the more memorable).

For making mind maps City has a very easy to use software called Inspiration. You can find Inspiration in the programmes menu on all City student computers.

You can also check some of the great resources and guidance available through the Learning Success Moodle module, including a follow along demonstration.