Topographic Text Image Credit: http://chronotext.org/Isaiah
I recently started reading Korean articles and was kind of amazed by how quickly my grasp of Korean grammar, syntax, and spelling improved. Then again, my Korean grammar and spelling fundamentals are so weak and shaky that they’re bound to be fortified by any sort of exercise or practice. I mean, if you don’t even know the Korean rules for spacing,1 then it’s kind of a given you’ll catch on simply by looking at Korean sentences, by osmosis. However, I’m still convinced that reading Korean is the quickest and surest way to become proficient in Korean. After all, reading is the primary way people become better writers, build their vocabulary, learn grammar (in the case of lousy public schools), etc.
The problem with reading Korean, however, is that in my case my brain starts shutting down after reading a few laborious sentences. If I have a goal or purpose, such as translating, I can methodically get the job done. But trying to read fiction, say Harry Potter, is like pure torture. Perhaps it’s because I know I could be skimming through it in English instead of belatedly realizing that 두들리 (Doo-deul-li) meant Dudley and that 더즐리 씨 (Deo-jeul-li ssi) meant the Dursleys.2 The solution to reading Korean with more ease and enjoyment? Take baby steps by reading along with a text-to-speech program.
Eureka! Text-to-Speech Voices
After multiple dead ends, finding decent Korean TTS voices on the net seemed nigh impossible. When I finally discovered download links for TTS voices, my cup overflowed with love and goodwill for the generous, noble netizens of China.3
Without further ado, here are the download links:4
You can listen to demos of these voices here: imtranslator.net/translate-and-speak
There are also eD2k links and alternative download links here.
If you have a ll5 account, or are willing to make one, you can download the voices here.
Alternatively, if you have the means, please purchase the voices @Nёospeech. I believe each voice retails for around $30.5
Another option (not recommended) is downloading the free Lernout & Hauspie Korean voices. Unfortunately, these voices are of low quality, ten times more robotic than Microsoft Anna *shudders.* Also, they are SAPI 4 voices, so you will have to install SAPI 4 (spchapi.exe).6 Windows XP and later versions have SAPI 5 installed by default.
How to Use TTS Voices
In order to use TTS voices, you need a TTS engine. Most systems come pre-installed with TTS engines. However, I’d recommend installing an additional TTS engine, in particular, TextA|oud. It retails for $29.95 but you can find it floating on the net.7 The pros of TA include compatibility with txt, rtf, doc, docx, wpd, odt, pdf, html, and xml file types, customizability, the ability to create mp3 and wma files, and integration with MS Office and Firefox. There are also plenty of free alternatives such as Balabolka,8 Chrome Speak, and NaturalReader. Once you have both the TTS engine and TTS voices installed, all you need to do is open the document you wish to listen to with the TTS engine, select a voice, and fiddle with the options to suit your preferences.
1 Rules for spacing in Korean: talktomeinkorean.com/lessons/level-4-lesson-16
2 Admittedly, Harry Potter might not be the best reading choice for people learning Korean. Every now and again, you have to decipher which words are new Korean vocabulary and which words are English words converted into Korean. Plus, there are a lot of bogus words, Expecto Patronum, Wingardium Leviosa, and all that. The pros, however, of reading an English work translated into Korean is that if you’ve read the English version, it’s easier to follow the Korean version. I’ve only listened to a few minutes of Harry Potter, but so far I’ve been able to understand what’s going on. It’s also one of my favorite childhood books, so I’ve been enjoying the re-read.
3 Bless you, C-netizens, bless you. No one in the English speaking interwebs was sharing decent Korean TTS voices. No one in the Korean interwebs was seeding Korean TTS voices. However, many lovely C-netizens were helping each other gain access to Korean TTS voices. Once I checked Baidu, there was a wealth of information to be found about obtaining Korean TTS voices. Apparently, you can use eMule, a p2p file sharing application, to connect to the eDonkey networks, aka eD2k, and download practically any TTS voice in existence. However, I didn’t even need to use eMule because I was able to find direct dl links on the third page of Baidu. (It’d probably have taken me 3,000 pages to find it on durn Google >_>).
4 If you have a Baidu account, please leave a message of thanks on the uploader Aligg121’s blog.
5 The excuse “I’m a poor student” is kinda lame, especially when we buy stuff we see fit all the time. I actually agree pirating is wrong (though I will defend to the death my right to do it) so I keep a list of freeware to donate to, and a list of programs to purchase in the near future. NeoSp voices are one of them. I’m really satisfied with their product and afaik, there aren’t many companies creating and selling Korean TTS voices, so I’d like to support them.
6 When installing SAPI 4 on Windows Vista/7, you may see notices during the installation processes about installing older files over newer ones. It is important that you choose “No To All.”
7 In order to crack TA, use the kёygen, turn off the automatic updates option, and don’t install the MS Word add-in.
8 “Balabolka is a Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. All computer voices installed on your system are available to Balabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV, MP3, MP4, OGG or WMA file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from AZW, CHM, DjVu, DOC, EPUB, FB2, HTML, LIT, MOBI, ODT, PRC, PDF and RTF files, customize font and background color, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys” (elearningindustry).