After using screen readers to read websites for Accessibility and Cortana on my Windows Phone to read text messages on a regular basis. I realised it was a massive productivity tool. I could be cooking dinner, washing the dishes, etc. and at the same time have my text messages read to me (as well as an option to reply). This prompted me to have another look at a text-to-speech program for Windows. After testing/trialing a couple of other free offerings, I ended up with the very simple and minimalistic Balabolka.
Although Balabolka is a free and no frills text-to-speech program, it is actually one of the more capable ones. It supports an extensive list of file types/formats including the popular ebook formats such as AZW, AZW3, CHM, epub, and mobi; which even commercial text-to-speech alternatives do not support.
Another feature that needs to be mentioned here is the ability to save the on-screen text to various audio formats – a functionality commercial text-to-speech alternatives charge as a premium feature.
Getting Started Basics
I recommend downloading the portable version. This way, there’s no installation. Just extract the files to a location you like, then double-clicking on the Balabolka.exe file and you’re all good to go.
When you start up Balabolka, you will see the main window appear (see Figure 1.) and a new icon added to your system tray (see Figure 2.).
The very first thing and possibly the only setting up you need to do is choose text-to-speech engine from the drop down in the main window (as shown in the screenshot above, I have selected ‘Microsoft Zira Desktop [English (United States)]). The options available for your system maybe different. If you do not have any text-to-speech engines installed, you can find download links to a few free ones further down on the Balabolka download page.
I recommend setting the rate to 3, but I’m not you. So try out the various rates available. What you’re looking for is a rate that is not too slow that bores you or too fast that you cannot hear what is being read.
Unless you are changing settings, need to repeat a piece of text, or only want to read a portion of text in the text area of the main window (denoted as a document); I would recommend hiding the main window (by clicking the minimize button in the window). And using the system tray icon to invoke the reading/opening actions.
To activate the system tray icon’s context menu, right-click the system tray icon and the menu shown in Figure 2. will appear.
- ‘Read Aloud’ will read the text within the text area of the main window/file you have opened.
- ‘Read Selected Text’ will read the text you have selected (i.e. highlighted) within the text area of the main window.
- ‘Read Clipboard Aloud’ will read whatever text you have in your clipboard.
What I found to be the most useful of the three is the ‘Read Clipboard Aloud’ option. It is just two actions – copy the text you want read and hit ‘Read Clipboard Aloud’ from the context menu, as opposed to several for the other two options.
Grab Your Own Copy
You can download Balabolka from their website: http://www.cross-plus-a.com/balabolka.htm
I recommend downloading the portable version.