Scottish children get voices back thanks to artificial speech

Youngsters living with speech issues will have their voices heard again after the launch of a new synthesised communication programme resembling the accent of Scottish children.

Children will benefit from the artificial speech technology. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It is hoped the voices of ‘Andrew’ and ‘Mairi’ will allow thousands of young people to “chat, laugh and sing” with friends and family, after the artificial speech was released to government funded organisations across Scotland for free by Edinburgh-based tech firm CereProc.

The voices, recorded by two 11-year-old child actors, will allow those with speech issues to communicate in cadence closer to their own rather than the standard speech recorded by professional actors.

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Over 330,000 people are thought to require synthesised speech to help them speak across the UK, many due to medical conditions including motor neurone disease, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

Text-to-speech firm CereProc developed the software, which can be loaded on to artificial speech devices, for researchers at CALL Scotland.

The organisation, based at the University of Edinburgh, works to help children overcome disabilities through a range of resources.

Tech bosses say they hope this new programme can help youngsters “truly project their personality”.

Paul Nisbet, Director of CALL Scotland, said: “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 school curriculum resources or SQA Digital Question Papers.”

Last year, the Scottish Government introduced legislation making access to communication equipment and support a legal right for those experiencing difficulties with speech.

Parents and guardians can access the voices from their local authority.

Dr Matthew Aylett, chief scientific officer at CereProc, said: “Having a voice and being heard is critical to children, their confidence, their quality of life and their self-esteem.

“These new synthesised voices are the next best thing after their own, allowing Scottish children to sound like Scottish children.”