The publishing industry has evolved from the traditional paper medium to digital text to the text-to-speech version and the latest trend, immersive reading. This new publishing platform offers a reading experience that does not only use the eyes, but the sense of hearing as well. Multiple digital media tools are utilized with the aim to let the reader experience the story in a very real sense. After all, reading goes beyond knowing the words on the page, it is a matter of context.
Phonemic awareness is one of the main challenges of people with learning/reading disabilities. In simple terms, phonemic awareness is knowing that words are made of sounds and the ability to hear and associate the sounds to what is written on the page. Phonemic awareness allows readers to identify the necessary print-sound relationship that leads to reading proficiency. This means associating oral phonemic awareness (sound) to the printed word. This is quite difficult to accomplish using normal text to speech technology because the spoken word is computer generated without the natural inflection and tone of human speech. More often than not, the robotic electronic voice of TTS makes reading uninteresting. It is a fact that the more readers enjoy a story, the more they will enjoy reading and the more proficient readers they become.
However, immersive reading platforms largely depend on humans recording the text of a book or a story to give it the depth and breadth of natural speech. This limits the availability of reading materials. The option would be to use a more developed speech synthesizer which mimics human speech. One of the more popular technologies being used is concatenative synthesis. This is done by getting chunks of human sounds and piecing them together to form sentences. Although the quality is much better than the basic text to speech programs, this is also limited because there’s no available database of all possible human sounds. The best technology by far is developed by Google Deep Mind, the WaveNet. As soon as it is commercially available, immersive reading can rise to a higher level.
Even with its limitation, the auditory reinforcement of an immersive reading platform provides a multisensory experience for the readers. The purpose is to immerse the reader in a story as it is narrated with real time highlighting. It caters to both visual and auditory learners and results in a deeper and longer-lasting learning. Aside from actors recording the book or story, impressive reading platforms can also include music and sound effects. The story becomes more alive and more engaging. The music and sound effects are just enhancements on the basic premise that reading the highlighted text aloud improves decoding and fluency of the reader. Immersive reading is a powerful tool to enhance the reading experience and provides an effective technology for educators in their commitment to improve reading proficiency of students especially those with learning/reading disabilities.
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