16/11/2019 -Synthesised Text-to-Speech gives Scottish children a voice again!
Scottish children with communication difficulties can speak and sing again, thanks to new youthful male and female Scottish accented synthesised Text-to-Speech voices
The Challenge: How to bring natural age appropriate voices to Scottish children
Around 330,000 people in the UK need communication tools to help them speak, due to a variety of illnesses and learning difficulties, from dyslexia, to motor neurone disease, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools are used to supplement and improve limited communication skills. Voice is a key part of your identity reflecting where you come from, your age and personality. For children it is incredibly difficult to find an age appropriate regional accent. Call Scotland’s mission is to help children across Scotland overcome disabilities and barriers to learning. The project, funded by the Scottish government, was to create 2 Scottish accented natural female and male child voices. Call Scotland a close partner of CereProc, approached our speech synthesis experts with the project to give Scottish children the ability to speak in their regional accent.
Call Scotland and CereProc collaborate to create two child voices!
CereProc and Call Scotland worked together during the voice casting process to find the perfect voice talents. Once selected the 11-year-old child actors, who grew up close to Edinburgh started the 30 hour long recording process. The recording script contained Scottish regional slang for the vocal gestures such as “Gonnae no dae that!” and “bampot!” to give the voices a more authentic feel. Within 4 weeks, CereProc had built the “Andrew” and “Mairi” voice and released the voices to Call Scotland.
Andrew and Mairi go live!
The release of the new voices is the latest development in AAC technology, which is improving rapidly following the recent introduction of AAC legislation by the Scottish Government. As of March 2018, access to communication equipment and support is a legal right for any person who has lost their voice or has difficulty speaking. As such, Scotland is currently leading the way in AAC technology.
CereProc has made these voices available free of licencing charges to manufacturers of AAC equipment with the aim of reducing the cost of AAC equipment to make it more accessible to those in need.
Paul Nisbet, Director of CALL Scotland, said: “We are very excited about the release of Andrew and Mairi, the new Scottish child computer voices, which are now available from our Scottish Voice web site. Previously, children in Scotland who use communication aids had a choice of speaking with the adult Scottish voices, or of using child voices with English or American accents. From today, they at last have the option to use a voice that is appropriate for their age, culture and nationality. The voices are designed for communication but can also be used by children and young people with dyslexia or visual impairment to read digital textbooks from CALL’s Books for All Database, curriculum resources, or the SQA Digital Question Papers which were developed by CALL and SQA in 2008.
New legislation gives children and adults with communication needs in Scotland the right to voice output technology: having a high-quality Scottish voice is an essential component and so we are very pleased to have been able to work with Scottish Government, CereProc and AAC manufacturers to make this happen.”
CereProc’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Matthew Aylett states: “Having a voice and being heard is critical to children, their confidence, their quality of life and their self-esteem, but many medical conditions rob us of speech. These new synthesised voices are the next best thing after their own, allowing Scottish children to sound like Scottish children instead of adults from England or the United States”,
Parents and guardians can easily access these voices from their local authority at no cost and use them with existing AAC tools, allowing their children or children in their care to talk with friends and family, sing along to their favourite songs and truly project their personality.
Aylett concludes: “The team here at CereProc couldn’t be prouder to help on this incredibly important project and will be continuing to develop more voices that let people, young or old, find their voice again.”