Apple has long had text-to-speech built into Mac OS X. With OS 10.7, they’ve added voices for Chinese. The voices aren’t pre-installed on US systems, at least, but they are free downloads.
- Go to System Preferences>Speech.
- Pull down the “System Voice” menu and choose “Customize.” (Note that in the image below, I have already installed two Chinese voices; go to “Customize” at the bottom to install voices).
- Select the voice(s) you wish (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are available for Chinese).
- Click the checkbox to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.” (You can customize the keyboard shortcut for this if you wish.)
- Optionally, adjust the speed of the voice.
A cool thing to do with this is to make audio files of texts (e.g., readings or dialogues from a textbook). The text-to-speech isn’t completely natural, of course, and nowadays most textbooks include audio in some format, but if you don’t have any other way to get audio files of specific texts, it’s better than nothing.
Here are some clips of the voices reading the first paragraph of the first text in the textbook Chinese Language and Culture (a transcript follows).
Xué Zhōngwén nán bu nán? Nán, yě bù nán. Wèishénme zhèyàng shuō ne? Yīnwèi xué rènhé yī zhǒng yǔyán dōu nán, dōu yào xué tīng, shuō, dú, xiě, dōu yào xué fāyīn, xué yǔfǎ, dōu yào jì dāncí.
“Ting-Ting” sounds a bit abrupt or clipped to me, compared to “Ya-Ling,” which is a pity, since this is the dialect that I prefer, but slowing the speed a bit helped. Still, this is a very cool feature that will almost certainly get better over time.