≡ Menu

How to make your Mac speak text

Need to read an email, a document, or anything else on your Mac, but your eyes or your brain are just too tired? How about having your Mac speak the text to you? Watch this video to see how to make your Mac your own personal reader.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

When selecting a key combination to tell your Mac to speak selected text, try to pick a key combination that isn’t used for something else. A combination with “S” (for speech) might seem natural, but steer clear of Command+S (⌘S), which is usually reserved for “Save”, and Command+Shift+S (⇧⌘S), which is often “Save As…”. As I show in the video, Command+Control+S (⌃⌘S) is probably a safe bet, as are more complicated combinations like Command+Option+Control+S (⌃⌥⌘S). Find something you’ll easily remember but isn’t already used by some other function.

Although highly recommended, you don’t absolutely have to use a modifier key (Command, Shift, Option, Control), but if you don’t your Mac will warn you with an alert “Are you sure you want to set the key combination without using a modifier key?” You’ll have the option to “use without a modifier key” or canceling and choosing another key combination.

The function keys (F1 through F12) across the top of your keyboard can be used but require a little special handling. If you want to use one of them (alone or in combination with any modifier keys), you must also include the “fn” key (in the lower left of the keyboard). This tells your Mac that you don’t want the function designated by the icon on the key (like changing the display brightness, volume, changing music tracks, etc.).

This feature should read any text that you have selected before you press your designated key combination. If you decide you want to stop your Mac’s speech before it reaches the end of the selected text, you use the same key combination to stop the computer speech.

Finally, you can choose the voice and set the speaking rate using the controls on the top of the “Speech / Text to Speech” System Preferences window. So, lean back, kick up your feet, and let your Mac do your reading for you. Your eyes could probably use the rest.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Bob Lutz July 18, 2011, 12:39 am

    I prefer to use a single key to activate/deactivate the speech command.

    The modifier key [fn] for F5 is an open key without an assigned use, is ideal for this purpose.

    At the preference setting point when you are asked to “set a key combination to speak selected text,” it is NOT necessary to use a combination; but rather select the the “F5” key, NOT THE “fn” and “5” keys… Another prompt window will open; just click on: “Use without a modifier key”.

    To use, highlight the text you want read, then touch only the F5 key to start and stop the speaking feature, just like Apple should have programmed it to start with..

    God bless, Bob

    • Steve July 18, 2011, 8:55 am

      Thanks for the tip, Bob. What kind of keyboard do you have? It’s tough to keep track of all the various keyboard layouts that Apple has created over the years. On my MacBook Pro the F5 key reduces the keyboard brightness (and F6 increases it). When I press F5 without the “fn” key, the Speech System Preferences window doesn’t notice that I did anything. I just get that little temporary keyboard brightness overlay window, similar to the one you might get when you use function keys (F10, F11, F12 on my keyboard) to adjust the speaker volume.

  • Francey February 6, 2012, 9:39 am

    I entered f5 as explained, and ‘it’ perfectly speaks any highlighted speech I choose. Neat!

    Under DATE and TIME, Clock— I have ‘it’s’ voice announce the time to me on every half hour. I want to keep this.

    Can I add a phrase of my own under ‘Set Alert Options’, ‘Phrase’, and have that new phrase played back to me— IN ADDITION to the Date & Time reminder— on the quarter-hour?

    What steps should I take to do this. Thank you. Francey

    • Steve February 6, 2012, 8:22 pm

      Hi Francey, unfortunately the Mac’s settings only let you assign a custom phrase to alerts like your battery running low or an application asking you a question.

      Your options for periodic alerts (like every quarter-hour) are limited to selecting amongst various voices and adjusting the speech rate and volume. You can’t adjust what is said–that’s always announcing the time.

      Outside of the Mac’s settings, there are ways you could do what you want but it would involve creating creating some ugly looking file(s) and performing some commands at the command line (in the Terminal app).

      Let me whip up an example and post as a new article. I’ll then add a comment here with a link to it.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.