Difference between revisions of "Foreign Words Pronounciation"

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(New page: == Text-to-Speech Software == If you need to hear how the words sound in the foreign language, a free online software is available [http://text-to-speech.imtranslator.net/ here]. It can ha...)
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Revision as of 15:44, 26 May 2009

Text-to-Speech Software

If you need to hear how the words sound in the foreign language, a free online software is available here. It can handle many languages.

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 next best thing are some free demo programs that produce computer-generated audio pronunciations, in several different languages, of text that you type in. 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!)

  • 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.
  • 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").
  • 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.

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 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!

Other Weird Things to Read Aloud

Pronunciation of "LibriVox"

As you can see from this thread, there is no "standard" pronunciation of LibriVox. Some people say lib-RUH-vocks; others say lee-BRUH-vocks; still others say lee-BREE-vocks. Some place the stress on the first syllable instead of the second; others put it on the third. Some say Vox with a short o; others with a long o. There's really no right or wrong way to say it. And as LibriVox volunteer Cori said, "If you can think of a new way, that's still understandable, then you're welcome to use that too."


What do you do if you're reading a nonfiction work, and the author has written footnotes? Should you read them? How do you read them? LibriVox doesn't really have a standard policy on these issues, and leaves it up to the discretion of the reader. But there are a few general guidelines.

If you are participating in a collaborative work, check the forum, and see if the BC has decided on a footnote policy for the book. If it hasn't been brought up already, ask what they want to do with footnotes. Often, they'll let you know if they want all the footnotes to be included, all of them to be omitted, or only source citations to be omitted. Most BCs either omit them altogether, or ask that you omit only those footnotes where the author is just listing the source of his information (e.g. a footnote like "See David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p.264" could be omitted).

If you are a BC, you should let your readers know what you want done with footnotes, preferably somewhere on the front of your forum, so that they follow a consistent policy. If you are going solo, it's your choice. Sometimes footnotes add depth to the author's work; other times they are irrelevant or so numerous as to be distracting. So it's up to you.

The actual reading of a footnote is not too hard. All you do is pause briefly, say something like "Footnote (then read the footnote) End footnote". Pause briefly again and resume the text. The main consideration is where to put the footnote.

There are three basic options: 1) put it exactly where it is in the text, even if it's in the middle of a sentence; 2) put it at the end of the sentence or paragraph; 3) put it at the end of the chapter. It's up to you what you'd prefer to do, but here are some additional considerations:

Reading the footnote exactly where it is in the text might seem like greater fidelity to the author's intentions, but sometimes, if it's in the middle of a sentence, it could interrupt the author's train of thought when read aloud, in a way that it doesn't on the printed page. So it might be better to put it elsewhere, like at the end of the sentence or paragraph. On the other hand, if its exact placement seems important to you, or if it's at the beginning of a long sentence, you can interrupt the sentence, say the footnote, and then return to the beginning of the sentence.

If it's an especially long footnote (sometimes authors write 1 or 2 page footnotes), then you might want to put it off till the end of the sentence or paragraph. If the footnote is an aside, not central to the author's train of thought, then you could even put it at the end of the chapter. It's generally better to do this when the chapters are short and the footnotes long. To refresh your listeners' memories, you could say, "Footnote following the sentence (then read the sentence before the footnote) (then read the footnote) End footnote." Again, it's up to you how you want to read footnotes. The main thing to aim for is clarity for the listener.

Mathematical Equations and Notations

  • Handbook for Spoken Mathematics If you were reading from a scientific or mathematical book, how would you convey in spoken language a complex equation like (x-h)^2 + (y-k)^ - 2/z^3 ^= r ? It's not something you're likely to run into often, but if you do, there's a site that has standardized spoken mathematics for reading to the blind and visually impaired. Though it's a little difficult to navigate, it has comprehensive guides for spoken algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, statistics, and more. (Scroll down past the tan section to the gray).
  • Guidelines for a Test Reader This site is similar to the above, though not nearly so extensive. But it is more attuned to the physical act of reading and the audio cues to the listener.

Character Voices and Accents

If you are reading a work of fiction, you may be considering whether you should come up with different voices for each of the characters in your piece.

In short, you don't have to. Most of us here have had no professional voice training, and developing a voice for a character can be harder than you think. Most men, even professional readers, have an especially hard time doing women's and children's voices. Don't worry about your listeners, though: while some readers prefer character voices, others prefer not to have them, and many others don't have a preference one way or the other. Most listeners will just be pleased to be listening to the text at all. In any case, your readers will be able to follow along perfectly well with the story even if you do not have different voices for each of the characters. If you've ever listened to a collaborative work of fiction produced by LibriVox, you'll know that that's true.

Still, you might find it worthwhile and enjoyable to create different voices for your characters. It's probably a good idea to start with a short story with different voice parts. You can also start paying close attention, if you haven't already, to how other LibriVox volunteers, and professional audiobook readers, read different voices. Try to notice how they pick from a range of different reading pitches, speeds, and styles to create distinctive voices for each character.

If you're wanting to learn how to speak English with different world accents (French accent, German accents, etc.), here is a site where you can listen to audio files with a vast collection of world accents: The Speech Accent Archive

There is/was also a good discussion of voice characterizations on the LibriVox forum on this thread.

If you have any useful links or additional thoughts, please feel free to add them to this page!