XO Speak: Speech Synthesis for One Laptop Per Child


At the recent OLPC Learning Club DC meetup, we learned about a fun Activity for the XO laptop: Speak. Very simply:

Speak is a talking face for the XO laptop. Anything you type will be spoken aloud using the XO's speech synthesizer, espeak.

You can adjust the accent, rate and pitch of the voice as well as the shape of the eyes and mouth. This is a great way to experiment with the speech synthesizer, learn to type or just have fun making a funny face for your XO.

But that description does not do justice to the fun you can have with Speak on the XO laptop. To really understand how it connects with children, you have to watch a child use Speak. Let's have Marayd show us its full educational engagement:
Did you see how quickly she go into it? It was definitely the big hit with everyone from child to adult, and expect other XO User Groups to be experimenting with Speak shortly too.

Better yet, share you Speak story with us now, so we can all co-learn.

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We did a similar video oriented at the educational possibilities of this program for spanish teachers.

Language learning, pre-readers initiation, etc.


Did you see the list of languages?


Next to Spanish and Portuguese, not much in the target regions. It is very easy to add new languages.

However, the quality of espeak's voice tends to be poor unless you can get to use a recorded voice (eg, Mbrola, which is not free as in speech).

Although the "voices" can sound rather uninviting at first, it is not too difficult to get a better voice (just a lot of work). But if it gets deployed and native speakers are available, improving the quality is simply a project for a few students.



I just came back from Cali, Colombia and used the Speak activity with children there. I said it was the Habla activity when I showed it to them. Some children were learning English, so they liked it speaking English, but I used it for Spanish there for the most part!

we're starting to use it for my brother who has profound autism. his very expensive assistive technology device died a few weeks ago, and it hit me that the Xo was portable, and with speak, might just do the trick. he is not a huge fan of new things, but he is starting to adjust... i think it will be great if he'll make the switch.

great stuff. I really feel this should be integrated in the os, not just an outside activity. Even the face and animation could be part of the system, it would give the xo a very nice robotic personality..

Jen: you have an autistic brother which is using the xo as an assistive technology? What a wonderful story, you should share more details with us..

My 7 year old has a good time with Speak. He finds it funny to hear how XO says "French" with a French accent ;-). He did a couple of really fun experiences, like punching about 30 numbers and let XO tell it what it is :-). When set to English, XO will render "5 + 3 = 8" out loud as "five plus three equals eight", but the same in French doesn't quite work : it can't resolve the "=". Another interesting use case : my kid can learn how to count in the language he wants. Cool, although not quite perfect in French.

WOW! looks like someone finally found a valid use for X-eyes!


Speak seems to be the first step towards making the XO laptop a more widely useful augmentative and alternative communication device. In southern Florida, we are beginning to use the XO's with speak and potentially icon speak with children with autism.

I recently wrote about both Activities:

The touch screen interface is a very important next step for this device to become a potentially world changing augmentative communication device.

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