Foreign Words Pronunciation

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Text-to-Speech Software

Text-to-Speech softwares are not dictionaries, but produce an audio rendering of the words that you input. Some text-to-spech software support many languages, while others support only one. They are not 100% reliable (just try using the English synthesizer), but they seem to work for most purposes. (Note: Use these websites only as a guide. Please don't copy and paste the computer-generated audio into your LibriVox recording!)

  • IMTranslator Speaks English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. It also has an on-screen keyboard for input, and you can select the language of the on-screen keyboard (to type in special characters in a particular language, for instance).
  • Cepstral Text-to-Speech Just select your language, copy and paste the text, and it will generate a synthetic audio file. You can even slow down the rate of speech to listen to it more carefully. Includes US and UK English, Italian, German, Canadian French, and Americas Spanish.
  • Linguatec Voice Reader Works the same as Cepstral above. Includes German, UK and US English, native and Canadian French, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Czech, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese. You can also save the MP3 file to your computer. However, it's a little bit more awkward to use than Cepstral, and you can't use Roman alphabet letters for Chinese.
  • Text-to-speech demo site by AT&T. Enter a word and, based on the language you select, will play a "recording" of that word. In addition to American English, the site provides options for U.K. English, Indian English, Latin American Spanish, German, French, and Canadian French.
  • Acapela HQ TTS Interactive Demo Provides a range of voices in different languages: Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch (Belgian, Dutch), English (UK, US), Finnish, French (Belgian, Canadian, French), German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian, Portuguese), Russian, Spanish (US, Spain), Swedish, Turkish.

Audio Dictionaries

Unfortunately, there are not very many audio dictionaries like Merriam-Webster for languages other than English. If you know of any, please post a link on here!

  • The English site of French Dictionary Larousse has audio pronunciations and definitions in French for most words, as well as verb conjugations and bilingual dictionaries for English/French, English/German, English/Italian and English Spanish, also with authentic audio pronunciations. The French Larousse site has bilingual dictionaries for Français/Anglais, Français/Allemand, Français/Italien and Français/Espagnol.
  • The American Heritage® Spanish Dictionary This site has audio pronunciations for a large number of Spanish words, alongside English translations. Unlike the Cepstral and Linguatec, these audio pronunciations are produced by real humans, so they are reliable. Very useful!
  • Perseus Latin Dictionary If you read the article below on Latin pronunciation, or know a thing or two about Latin, you'll know that sometimes the only way to know how to pronounce a Latin word is to look in a dictionary to see whether the vowels are long or short. This site does not have audio pronunciations, and the search engine is difficult to use, because it's not intended for non-speakers, but it's the only one known to us that gives vowel lengths for a large number of words.
  • Free Audio Base of French Words Includes audio pronunciations of several hundred French words. Even if you can't find the exact word you're looking for, you can search the site (Ctrl+F) to get an idea of how certain combinations of letters are pronounced.
  • Free Audio Base of Chinese Words Includes audio pronunciations of a few hundred Chinese words. It's useful for hearing how certain building blocks of words are pronounced (like "xiang").
  • Native speakers record and upload the pronunciation of words that others have asked to hear in a multitude of languages.

General Guides to Other Languages

If you are reading a text with a lot of unfamiliar non-English words, it might be worth your while to learn some of the basic principles behind the pronunciation of the language. For example, in a text on Chinese history, you may need to read the names Wu Ti and Li Po, among others. Many English speakers would pronounce these "woo tee" and "lee poh." But the correct pronunciation is actually closer to "woo dee" and "lee boh." In such a case, a guide that gives an approximate English equivalent of the sounds in transliterated Chinese would be helpful, rather than searching for every Chinese word you come across. Also, many proper nouns in Chinese simply cannot be found in any of the English dictionaries above, so reading a guide to the pronunciation of Chinese may be the closest you can come.

This does not mean that you need to learn how to read Chinese characters, or that you need to learn the language at all. You would just be learning how to pronounce its words reasonably well. And it's completely up to you whether you want to spend the time to learn the pronunciation rules for a language foreign to you. Actually though, it doesn't take very long to get a basic grasp of the pronunciation of another language, at least good enough to make an educated guess at the pronunciation of different words. Reading through one of the short guides below, and applying the rules to the words you need to speak, will alone often bring you acceptably close to standard pronunciation. Just don't expect to speak it like a native!

The section below is devoted to guides to the pronunciation of other languages, written for the non-speaker. It is very incomplete, so if you know of any good online pronunciation guides, or would like to write one yourself, please post them here!

If You're Not Sure What Language Your Words Are In

Sometimes it's not difficult to tell what language your words are in. Even if you don't speak a word of the language, you might recognize "Participer à LibriVox, c’est très facile" as French. Other times it's more difficult. If you're not sure what language your text is in, you can always ask the LibriVox volunteers, or you can use a search engine like Google. You can sometimes find a web page that tells you, or figure it out from the context the words are in.

Table of Pronunciation Guides (Over 30 Languages)

This table below has links to guides for the pronunciation of words in several different languages. For the most part, they are concise and easy for a non-native to follow. They give a list of all the consonants, vowels, and several commonly confusing letter combinations, along with approximate English equivalents. They often also give special rules on where to place the stress. By applying the rules in these guides, you should be able to come reasonably close to the pronunciation of words in that language for your LibriVox recording.

Afrikaans Dutch Filipino Hebrew (Ancient) Italian Polish Spanish
Cambodian (Khmer) English (Middle) Finnish Hungarian Japanese Portuguese Swahili
Chinese English (Old) French Icelandic Korean Russian Swedish
Czech Esperanto German Indonesian Latin Sanskrit or this site Vietnamese
Danish Estonian Greek (Ancient) Irish Gaelic Norwegian Slovak Welsh

Adding Your Own Pronunciation Guides

If you know of a good online pronunciation guide to any language (including English), you are welcome to post it in the table above. Alternatively, if you speak the language well, you can write your own. The Chinese Pronunciation Guide here is a good example to go by. It's written for the non-speaker and it's not overly concerned with fine details. The guide should list all the consonants, vowels, diphthongs, and commonly confusing letter combinations, transliterated into a Roman alphabet, if applicable, along with an approximate English equivalent (e.g. "a" as in bat). It should also include several examples of phonetically spelled words (as on the Chinese page). If you do not have a website or webspace of your own, you can always ask for another volunteer to host the file; it wouldn't be very big. Your fellow LibriVox volunteers would greatly appreciate it!