Does Your Computer Speak Thai?

Your computer speaks Thai even if you don't

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Your computer can speak Thai… even if you don’t…

Those learning Thai struggle. No doubt. There’s a ton of free audio available for Chinese, French, Italian, German, yadda yadda. But not so much for learning Thai. Many students of Thai have resorted to recording their own materials.

Recording Thai vocabulary and phrases is fairly easy for those who live in Thailand. What I do is set up my SnowBall, grab a generous Thai friend, and have fun. But when birds started screaming at all hours and then jackhammers joined in, recording Thai for posts (even with a portable soundbox) became difficult to pull off.

Then along came Bernard Le Du’s post, SI, SI, VOTRE MAC PARLE THAÏ ! So YES! YES! my Mac CAN speak Thai! And by that, I mean it can read Thai out loud.

There are several ways to get your computer to speak Thai by reading from Thai script. And each have their own quirks. On the Mac, Lion and Mountain Lion have Thai capabilities. For the PC, other than using Chrome, I don’t know what’s available. If you do let us know in the comments (and if you want to write a post on the subject, please contact me).

Note: For the sample audio I’m using a phrase from Hugh’s, Thai Language Thai Culture: Pain and Suffering: ปวดไหม /bpùat măi/ (does that hurt?)

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Lion and Mountain Lion…

Following Bernard’s instructions, to get my Mac to speak Thai I first had to upgrade my computer. When I eventually got around to it – my life has been insane lately – the process was almost painless.

Download Narisa >> System Prefs >> Dictation Speech >> Text to Speech >> Narisa. I say ‘almost’ painless because Apple muffed up the download (but Bernard came to my rescue – thanks Bernard 🙂

To hear audio: Select Thai text >> right click >> choose ‘Speak Thai’ from contextual menu.

To record audio: Select Thai text >> right click >> choose ‘Add to iTunes as Spoken Track’ from contextual menu >> select Narisa >> Continue (mp4 format).


In his post Bernard also mentioned a sound spelling checker. That’ll come in handy as I’m cacca at spelling in any language.

Mac App: Voice…

In the Mac App store there’s a free app called Voice (the graphic is shown in the banner above). Voice also uses Narisa.

To hear audio: Open the app >> paste the text into the window >> select the text >> click ‘play’.

To record audio: Instead of clicking ‘play’, click ‘record’ to export a sound file (aiff format).

Chrome extensions…

NOTE: The Chrome extensions don’t record (that I could find) so from here on in I’ve used Audacity. The results are not as clear as the originals but fiddling didn’t give an exact sound either so I left them as is. Comparing the audio files direct from my computer, Luke’s Speak Thai and Google Translate have a sweeter sound.

Awhile back Luke Hubbard @lukeinTH (programmer at codegent.com) came out with a handy Chrome extension, Speak Thai. When I enquired he was happy to share.

Is very simple from a tech point of view. Its a little extension that sends the selected text the text to speech server used by Google translate. This then speaks it out in Thai using the html5 audio api. The source code is available to anyone who fancies having a look.

I wrote it the other day while stuck in traffic to scratch a little itch. Like many farang living here I can understand quite a bit of spoken Thai but I’ve never actually learned to read the script (call me lazy). I have Google translate plugin in my browser and that can translate the whole page but it doesn’t do a good job on conversational Thai (the sort of thing in social media feeds). Worse it seems to rewrite English into Pigeon English leaving me with broken Thai and broken English :). Up until now I’ve been copying small bits of text over to Google translate and translating them there to get some context. Really what I wanted was a way to speak out the text since I can usually understand it if I hear it.

In the past I’ve done this in OSX using the excellent Narisa voice plus some accessibility shortcut to read the selected text. While thats is one solution it does involve a rather big download (900mb if I remember correctly) and I didn’t have it installed on this computer. Since Google has a similar capability I thought I might as well make an extension to make better use of it.

Speak Thai: Select Thai text >> right click >> choose ‘Speak Thai’ from contextual menu. Reads short bits of text (perfect for twitter).


Chrome Speak: Select Thai text >> right click >> choose ‘Read the selected text’ from contextual menu. Reads long bits of text.


SpeakIt!: Select Thai text >> right click >> choose ‘SpeakIt!’ from contextual menu.

Google Translate…

Google Translate will speak Thai for you, but not Thai and English combined (it defaults to English).

Rendering text-to-speech files…

Christopher from MacWorld has an interesting Mac tutorial for automating TextExit files to audio, Rendering text-to-speech files. Problem is, I can’t get it to work (doesn’t allow ‘Show This Action When the Workflow Runs’). If you can get your head around it please let me know!

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