Text to Speech provides an auditory representation of what you type into select Microsoft Office applications running under Microsoft Windows. A synthesized voice reads aloud from your active document, which can consist of word processing, a spreadsheet, a presentation document, an email message or notes from a meeting. To access this feature on a one-click basis, you must set it up in your Office software so it appears as a toolbar option.

What the Speak Feature Does

When you proofread a presentation, paper or set of calculations, you can fall into the trap of familiarity, seeing what your work should say rather than what you actually typed. Beginning with Office 2010, Microsoft incorporated the ability to make Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote speak the text you enter into the documents you create. This feature offers advantages to people with limitations on their eyesight and to anyone who wants to evaluate his work through a sensory input other than reading on screen or printed text.

How to Access the Speak Feature

To keep Speak at the ready, add it to the Quick Access Toolbar at the top of the screen in those applications that support it. Next to the toolbar, an icon that looks like the one you see on buttons that open the media trays on DVD players opens the "Customize Quick Access Toolbar" menu. Choose "More Commands" to access the Options screen for your application, and choose "All Commands" from the "Choose Commands From" drop-down menu. The Speak command -- or commands, depending on which Office application you're in -- appears in the alphabetical list. Click on the "Add" button to insert speech commands in the Quick Access Toolbar list and the "OK" button to confirm your customization.

Hearing Text

When you're ready to listen to your text or worksheet cell entries, highlight as much or as little of your document as you want to hear and click on the applicable Speak command button in the Quick Access Toolbar. The synthesized Text to Speech voice that matches the language of your Office installation reads the selection for playback through your computer speakers. If you rely on external audio equipment that you must power up to use, verify that you've turned it on before you trigger the Speak command. To halt the voice, click on the "Stop Speaking" button in the Quick Access Toolbar.

Making It Multilingual

If you install the Microsoft Speech Platform, you can install Text to Speech support for languages other than the one supported directly in your version of Microsoft Office (see Resources). These languages include multiple regional variants of English, as well as Chinese, Danish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, some with support for more than one localization. Office also supports third-party Text to Speech engines. You can't install support for all the languages under every version of Microsoft Office, but you can provide yourself with useful options to support multilingual typesetting.