iPhone/iPad - Really cool tool for practicing language pronunciation within lingQ (free)

I have come across an interesting way to practice language pronunciation right from within the lingQ application, using iOS native text-to-speech capabilities. As far as I am aware, about 30 of the major languages are supported in iOS6 (see full list below).

The key advantages of the approach I describe below are:

(i) Each individual word is highlighted in the text as it is being read out loud.

(ii) The quality of the text-to-speech voice is quite reasonable (at least for the languages that I tried). It does not sound robotic and unnatural like so many other text-to-speech engines.

(iii) You can slow down the speaking rate, which is quite useful if you want to be able to read ahead and anticipate each word’s pronunciation ahead of it being read out loud. Of course, this will make the speech sound less natural, but you can’t have everything…!

(iv) For certain languages such as English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Chinse, you can even configure the “dialect” or accent of the language you want to use. This is extremely useful in the case of European Portuguese pronunciation, which is not presently available via the TTS provided in lingQ (only Brazilian Portuguese is currently available). A similar comment applies for different varieties/dialects of English, Spanish, French and Chinese.

(v) Right from within the lingQ lesson view, you can easily select the portion of the lesson text to be spoken out loud (i.e., a single word, a paragraph, the entire lesson). There is no need to copy-paste the text and go into another application.

Of course, this is definitely not as good as having audio from a native speaker. However, it is definitely a good stand-in for lessons that you want to create yourself and for which you have no supporting audio. Also, when you are first learning pronunciation of a language, the features mentioned above are a definite plus in order to learn the basic sounds (phonemes) associated with different letter or symbol combinations. When you will want to move on to practice the prosody of the language (rhythm, stress and intonation), then this type of “automated speech approach” will not be appropriate and you will need to interact with native speakers.

If you want to activate this functionality on your iPhone or iPad, then here’s all that you have to do:

(1) Go into Settings → Accessibility → Speak Selection.
(2) Turn the “speak selection” button to ON.
(3) If required, configure the dialect or accent to be used (via the Dialects sub-menu).
(4) Set the “Highlight Words” setting to “ON” (this is what will cause the words to be highlighted as they are being read out loud).
(5) If required, adjust the speaking rate (you can always go back later and change this if you find that the default speed is to fast).

One you have configured these settings, you are set to go. From within the lingQ lessons view, just select the portion of text you want to have read out loud and select the “speak” option from the menu. I find that what works best is to first select a portion of the text where there are no “yellow boxes”. Once the block is marked off, I use the selection “handles” (the little blue dots) to adjust the size and position of the selected text.

You should also note that this “text-to-speech” iOS functionality works anywhere else where you can select text (e.g., a web site, a PDF document, an e-mail, and entry in your “Notes”, etc…). Enjoy!

Here is a link to an article (with photos and illustrations) which explains how to configure and use this feature in iOS.


Built-in voices presently included in iOS6 are: English (U.S.), English (UK), English (Australia), English (Ireland), English (South Africa), Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), French (France), French (Canada), German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (Mainland China), Mandarin (Taiwan), Cantonese (Hong Kong), Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish (Belgium), Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

Limitation (In some rare cases): As of iOS6, apple has expanded the capabilities of “speak selection” to support text selections which includes multiple languages. For example, your selection could include text in both English and Chinese and the “speak selection” will detect the language for the corresponding text and apply the proper text-to-speech accordingly. However, I have found that in some rare instances this “auto language detection” can also create problems. This can occur when you have an isolated sentence (i.e., which is not part of another paragraph) and which uses rare or obscure vocabulary. In this case, the sentence’s language has the potential of being incorrectly “auto-detected” by Apple’s text-to-speech algorithm. For instance, in some of the Portuguese texts that I have tried, I have seen some rare cases where some of the isolated sentences are incorrectly read out with an English pronunciation (rather than a Portuguese pronunciation). I have been in contact with Apple regarding this, and they tell me that this can occur if some of the words in the sentence are not currently part of the iOS dictionary for that language. In that case, the pronunciation will default to the default language which is configured for the iOS device (i.e., English in my case). In the case of Portuguese, improvements are in the works, so that this problem should eventually disappear in the next iOS updates (no confirmation on the time-frame).

However, in the meantime I have found some workarounds to this problem:

(1) Easy workaround: Move the “incorrectly detected sentence” within the same paragraph as other sentences which are detected in the correct language. It seems that the language detection algorithm works on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. So if you are able to rearrange the text (e.g., in the case of a lesson that you have imported), then you can just move the offending sentence so that it is not isolated (i.e., move it within the previous block of text or the next block of text).

  1. More invasive workaround: Change the default language of your iPhone or iPad to be the same as the language that you are learning (e.g., European Portuguese in my case). In this case, any sentences or text fragments for which the auto-detection fails will be spoken in the default language of that device.

My uncle was using his Ipad’s navigation set to Quebec French dialect when we were traveling Northern California this week. It was making us laugh, and not just because we are a family of Parisian French speakers.

Is the standard French dialect much better? If it is I’ll be buying a mini tomorrow (well… when I have the money ;p)

Beaucoup thanks to you, pcolag, for pointing out this feature and for your full explanation of how it works. I don’t have an iPad or iPhone, but I do have an iPod Touch, and the feature functions on it, too. At least text in French and Spanish on Safari. It does not work on Kindle because Kindle does not allow for copy and paste (user error is equally likely). I have not tried other apps yet.

@djvlbass The standard French voice sounds decent enough to me, at least in a short trial. (Does not mean I endorse the mini!)

The English dialects available are U.S., Australian, British, Irish and South African. Spanish are Spain and Mexico. Nederlands Nederland and Belgisch. There are three languages from the Pacific Rim, but I do not know what they are.

@djvbass: The navigation software which you were using may be based altogether on a different TTS engine, so it would be difficult to compare with the native TTS capabilities which I am referring to. Which navigation application were you using (Google Maps, Garmin, …)?

In order to give you some idea of the capabilities of the native TTS engine in iOS, here are a few demonstrations:

Swedish: - YouTube
Portuguese, French (France), Italian, English, Arabic, Chinese, German: - YouTube

Please note that this previous video is from Brazil, so menu titles are in Portuguese: Falar=Speak, Seleçao=Selection. Also note that this video is based on iOS5, so that the configuration options are somewhat different than for iOS6 (what I described above).

English and Spanish: - YouTube

As you can see from the 2nd video, the Parisian French spoken is quite decent. As far as Québec French, I’ve also tested out and I also find it quite good (I am from Québec and a native speaker of Québecois since I was born). Bear in mind though that this dialect reflects the “standard” version of Québecois ( as is spoken in formal circumstances). The more colloquial form of Quebecois (as is spoken on the streets and informally amongst friends or family) has a considerably different accent and vocabulary (including many influences from English).


Thanks for the information.

I guess I just don’t like computerized voices, as it sounded bad to me in both French and English. I could see it being useful for me if have no idea how to pronounce a single word, but I doubt I would listen to an entire web page in digital talk.

Maybe it would be good for learning Japanese. I’ve spoken to a lot of Japanese learners who say they will recognize a Kanji, but be confused as to the correct pronunciation, and therefore meaning.

If you like it, then great! I’m just kind of difficult when it comes to consumer electronics :stuck_out_tongue:

I love Quebecois and Quebeckers, and all the vareties therein. Are you aware of “le chiac” ?

@djvbass (David): Yes, you’re right. This is mainly a good tool for learning the correct sounds and pronunciations of words and symbols. I do not plan to use it beyond that and, I too, would have a hard time listening to long texts once I become sufficiently familiar with a language.

My main motivation for using this tool right now is to improve my pronunciation in Portuguese, which I’m finding to be a challenge! There are a plethora of vowel sounds (open vowels, closed vowels, nasalized vowels, diphthongs), many of which don’t exist in the other languages that I know (English, French, Italian, Spanish and some Greek). To add to the challenge, in Portuguese the sounds of vowels change according to whether the vowel is stressed or unstressed, and sometimes also as according to the consonant that follows it. This is also quite different from all the other languages I have learned before, and this tool is coming handy to ease the learning curve!

Yes, I’m aware of “le chiac”. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing it first hand when I vacationed in New-Brunswick (Shediac). It is quite interesting to listen to, as it is a French that is so heavily influenced by English that it is difficult to say if it is more French or English.

Here in Québec we have our own variety of 'le chiac" which is called “joual”. Joual is at one complete extreme of the Québec French register (the most informal variety) while the Québec French used in Apple’s TTS is at the other extreme (the most formal). The French spoken by Quebecers in typical everyday speech lies somewhere between these two extremes (depending on social class, location, and context). If you want to get a feel for just how much “joual” can differ from standard French, you can have a look at the following link: Joual - Wikipedia.

If you want to get a feel for the typical 'Québecois" which is spoken by most people, here a few good references:



If you want to hear some “informal” Québecois, you can check out the very popular “Têtes á claques” videos. These are comical videos which are difficult to understand and appreciate unless you are able to tune your ear to this very informal register of “Québecois”. I’ve met quite a few Frenchman (from France) who’ve told me they’ve used these videos to familiarize themselves with the Québecois dialect.

Here are a few of the classic “Têtes á claques” videos :

Let me know how intelligible you find the French spoken in these clips. Some are easier to understand than others. I think the Halloween clip is probably the toughest one to understand for a non-Québecer.

I watched most of the first season of Tetes a claques. I watched one episode with my mother who is a native French speaker, and I think we had about the same understanding despite my less than amazing French. I am convinced my knowledge of English puts me at an advantage.

The halloween video is mostly unitelligible to me. I can get the main jokes, I think. The one about potatoes is almost half English, so its not too bad.

I really like these equivalencies from the ulaval link. I catch myself using some of these in my french conversations because of my English background. Especially the “faire du sens” one.

tomber en amour avec le Québec : tomber amoureux du Québec
ça fait du sens : c’est logique
présentement : actuellement
sauver de l’argent : épargner
sauver du temps : gagner du temps

A German speaker, who speaks much better French than any non-native I’ve met, told me I have some Quebecois aspects to my accent. Maybe it’s some anglo-quebecois crossover.