Text-to-speech technology for Malta

Interesting tale how text to speech models can be built even for the smallest user base 

Access to information is crucial in today’s society. What use is there for information that cannot be accessed? How can a visually impaired or illiterate person use information that is displayed on a screen if that information cannot be read?

These questions, or rather, the answers to such questions, were the inspiration for a project that led to the creation of the first Maltese Text to Speech Synthesiser.

Whereas in the recent past, information was accessed through personal computers, people are becoming more familiar with different forms of technology, such as tablet PCs and smart phones, as well as with alternative means of interacting with computers. Popular examples are iPhone’s Siri and Nokia’s Audiobook Reader, which promote speech recognition and synthesis respectively.

These technologies make it easier for almost everyone to use computers. However, for many, they define whether or not one is able to use a computer. For example, textual information shown on computer screens is not accessible to illiterate or visually impaired people. Nevertheless, it becomes accessible with the use of speech synthesis technology, which reads out what is shown on the screen.

In 2008, the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (FITA) obtained funding via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with 85 per cent of the cost shouldered by the EU and 15 per cent by the government, to work on the ERDF114 Maltese Speech Engine (MSE) project.

The project includes three main components, namely:

Research study.

Software development.

Publicity.

Research Study

The research study, carried out by Fsadni and Associates in 2009, focused on identifying the potential need in Malta for this technology. It revealed that there is a significant interest in the MSE, with 44 per cent exhibiting a need for speech-enabled software that speaks in Maltese.

Software Development

The Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) assisted FITA in drawing up a public call for tenders vis-à-vis the software development component of the project. The contract was awarded to Crimsonwing plc.

Work on the software, which consists of a lexicon (dictionary), speech synthesis module and two host applications, commenced in January 2010. The lexicon supports some of the functionality of the speech synthesis module and is also intended to provide a basis for future research, including speech recognition. The host applications are intended to display the functionality of the MSE.

Apart from the extensive involvement of end users in the design and testing process, FITA also required that three prototypes be produced prior to the final version. The testing involved the Education Directorate and a number of disability-sector NGOs, apart from entities either contacted by FITA or that expressed an interest in the project. The prototypes enabled FITA to monitor the progress of the MSE and provide end-users with the opportunity to relay their feedback back via FITA. Testing involved processing a considerable amount of data, recording the outcome of different user operations and using different speech-enabled products across different MS Windows platforms. All of this had to be done for multiple users. This development cycle has been ongoing for the last three years, resulting in the MSE software product that is due for release in just over two weeks’ time, on 26 June. The testing process enabled FITA to produce supporting documentation for the MSE, with instructions for integrating it across different software products.

Publicity

FITA has distributed and is still producing research documents and publicity material related to the MSE, including a new website and distributable DVDs. Following the launch on 26 June, the project will draw to a close with an information seminar in September. The software will be made available for free download on FITA’s website at www.fitamalta.eu or can be obtained on a DVD, for a fee, from FITA’s offices at Gattard House, National Road, Blata l-Bajda.

Can I use the MSE?

I am frequently asked who can use the speech engine, once it is available. Until recently, speech-enabled software supported many languages, but not Maltese. Many users of assistive technology were forced to use the English or American voice as a default language and the pronunciation of the Maltese text sounded very bad indeed. The MSE is compatible with the Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI V5). It therefore supports any speech-enabled software that supports this standard. Examples include the Window Eyes and NVDA screen readers, the Grid 2, Clicker 5 and other communication and educational software.

The list of potential end users includes people with dyslexia, illiterate people, visually-impaired people, those with intellectual impairment, children in pre-primary and primary education and anyone who may tire reading a newspaper or book and prefers having it read to him.

There are also many commercial applications that could use the annunciation of process and commands in Maltese. Some of the most common applications are e-services and the automated handling of phone calls, where one may no longer need to rely on recorded voice snippets, but can more easily update and modify voice messages. Maltese speech synthesis can also enable industry to customise equipment to Maltese-speaking machine operators.

E-services that rely on the Maltese language can be more user-friendly to Maltese speakers by using the MSE in order to assist computer access. Fuller inclusion within the information society will benefit Maltese society as a whole by empowering individuals to gain better access to education and obtain gainful employment. This is another step forward wherein, by minimising the digital divide, FITA enables individuals to contribute productively to society and the economy.

For more information please contact ERDF114 project manager Roger Davies-Barrett on tel. 2599 2178 or by email to roger.davies-barrett@gov.mt

What is FITA?

The Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility is the principal advocate and coordinator for making information communications technology (ICT) accessible for people with disability in the Maltese Islands. It was established by the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) and the National Commission for Disabled People (KNPD) on 2 October 2001 with the aim of facilitating the integration of people with a disability who find themselves at a disadvantage in a particular environment, by providing equitable and appropriate enabling accommodation.

The Foundation’s

aims and objectives

• To promote equal opportunities for everyone, in particular in relation to information technology matters;

• To provide training services in information technology to disabled people;

• To gather and disseminate information and to increase awareness on information technology matters

• To liaise with and facilitate public and private endeavours regarding the creation of equal opportunities in respect of information technology

• To offer advice and consultancy services to private and public organisations in information technology and its use by people with a disability.

FITA’s principle function is to provide support to disabled individuals in overcoming or removing barriers to education and employment through ICT. Through empowerment and social inclusion, people with a disability will have less reliance on family and state support. FITA’s information services help disabled people in the selection, acquisition and use of an assistive technology device that is intended to increase, maintain or improve the individual’s quality of life. By ensuring that proper steps are taken to minimise the digital divide, individuals are able to contribute productively to society and the economy.

Roger Davies-Barrett is Project Manager ERDF114 Maltese Speech Engine (MSE) project

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Text-to-speech technology for Malta

Interesting tale how text to speech models can be built even for the smallest user base 

Access to information is crucial in today’s society. What use is there for information that cannot be accessed? How can a visually impaired or illiterate person use information that is displayed on a screen if that information cannot be read?

These questions, or rather, the answers to such questions, were the inspiration for a project that led to the creation of the first Maltese Text to Speech Synthesiser.

Whereas in the recent past, information was accessed through personal computers, people are becoming more familiar with different forms of technology, such as tablet PCs and smart phones, as well as with alternative means of interacting with computers. Popular examples are iPhone’s Siri and Nokia’s Audiobook Reader, which promote speech recognition and synthesis respectively.

These technologies make it easier for almost everyone to use computers. However, for many, they define whether or not one is able to use a computer. For example, textual information shown on computer screens is not accessible to illiterate or visually impaired people. Nevertheless, it becomes accessible with the use of speech synthesis technology, which reads out what is shown on the screen.

In 2008, the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (FITA) obtained funding via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with 85 per cent of the cost shouldered by the EU and 15 per cent by the government, to work on the ERDF114 Maltese Speech Engine (MSE) project.

The project includes three main components, namely:

Research study.

Software development.

Publicity.

Research Study

The research study, carried out by Fsadni and Associates in 2009, focused on identifying the potential need in Malta for this technology. It revealed that there is a significant interest in the MSE, with 44 per cent exhibiting a need for speech-enabled software that speaks in Maltese.

Software Development

The Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) assisted FITA in drawing up a public call for tenders vis-à-vis the software development component of the project. The contract was awarded to Crimsonwing plc.

Work on the software, which consists of a lexicon (dictionary), speech synthesis module and two host applications, commenced in January 2010. The lexicon supports some of the functionality of the speech synthesis module and is also intended to provide a basis for future research, including speech recognition. The host applications are intended to display the functionality of the MSE.

Apart from the extensive involvement of end users in the design and testing process, FITA also required that three prototypes be produced prior to the final version. The testing involved the Education Directorate and a number of disability-sector NGOs, apart from entities either contacted by FITA or that expressed an interest in the project. The prototypes enabled FITA to monitor the progress of the MSE and provide end-users with the opportunity to relay their feedback back via FITA. Testing involved processing a considerable amount of data, recording the outcome of different user operations and using different speech-enabled products across different MS Windows platforms. All of this had to be done for multiple users. This development cycle has been ongoing for the last three years, resulting in the MSE software product that is due for release in just over two weeks’ time, on 26 June. The testing process enabled FITA to produce supporting documentation for the MSE, with instructions for integrating it across different software products.

Publicity

FITA has distributed and is still producing research documents and publicity material related to the MSE, including a new website and distributable DVDs. Following the launch on 26 June, the project will draw to a close with an information seminar in September. The software will be made available for free download on FITA’s website at www.fitamalta.eu or can be obtained on a DVD, for a fee, from FITA’s offices at Gattard House, National Road, Blata l-Bajda.

Can I use the MSE?

I am frequently asked who can use the speech engine, once it is available. Until recently, speech-enabled software supported many languages, but not Maltese. Many users of assistive technology were forced to use the English or American voice as a default language and the pronunciation of the Maltese text sounded very bad indeed. The MSE is compatible with the Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI V5). It therefore supports any speech-enabled software that supports this standard. Examples include the Window Eyes and NVDA screen readers, the Grid 2, Clicker 5 and other communication and educational software.

The list of potential end users includes people with dyslexia, illiterate people, visually-impaired people, those with intellectual impairment, children in pre-primary and primary education and anyone who may tire reading a newspaper or book and prefers having it read to him.

There are also many commercial applications that could use the annunciation of process and commands in Maltese. Some of the most common applications are e-services and the automated handling of phone calls, where one may no longer need to rely on recorded voice snippets, but can more easily update and modify voice messages. Maltese speech synthesis can also enable industry to customise equipment to Maltese-speaking machine operators.

E-services that rely on the Maltese language can be more user-friendly to Maltese speakers by using the MSE in order to assist computer access. Fuller inclusion within the information society will benefit Maltese society as a whole by empowering individuals to gain better access to education and obtain gainful employment. This is another step forward wherein, by minimising the digital divide, FITA enables individuals to contribute productively to society and the economy.

For more information please contact ERDF114 project manager Roger Davies-Barrett on tel. 2599 2178 or by email to roger.davies-barrett@gov.mt

What is FITA?

The Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility is the principal advocate and coordinator for making information communications technology (ICT) accessible for people with disability in the Maltese Islands. It was established by the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) and the National Commission for Disabled People (KNPD) on 2 October 2001 with the aim of facilitating the integration of people with a disability who find themselves at a disadvantage in a particular environment, by providing equitable and appropriate enabling accommodation.

The Foundation’s

aims and objectives

• To promote equal opportunities for everyone, in particular in relation to information technology matters;

• To provide training services in information technology to disabled people;

• To gather and disseminate information and to increase awareness on information technology matters

• To liaise with and facilitate public and private endeavours regarding the creation of equal opportunities in respect of information technology

• To offer advice and consultancy services to private and public organisations in information technology and its use by people with a disability.

FITA’s principle function is to provide support to disabled individuals in overcoming or removing barriers to education and employment through ICT. Through empowerment and social inclusion, people with a disability will have less reliance on family and state support. FITA’s information services help disabled people in the selection, acquisition and use of an assistive technology device that is intended to increase, maintain or improve the individual’s quality of life. By ensuring that proper steps are taken to minimise the digital divide, individuals are able to contribute productively to society and the economy.

Roger Davies-Barrett is Project Manager ERDF114 Maltese Speech Engine (MSE) project

More-latest speech technologies
Social share or comment – what do you think?

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.

Trackback URL http://www.speechtechnologygroup.com/text-to-speech-technology-for-malta/trackback
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