Review by Adirondack AccessAbility Inc. , Common Sense Education | Updated February 2014

Natural Reader

Natural text-to-speech tool helps kids with reading difficulties

Subjects & skills
  • Character & SEL

  • English Language Arts
  • World Languages
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (3 Reviews)

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Pros: User friendly with solid text-to-speech capabilities; users can upgrade as features are needed.

Cons: Free app needs to be on the Internet to access the voices if using on mobile devices.

Bottom Line: The simple interface and natural-sounding voice can empower many types of kids, those with difficulties in reading or those with cognitive disabilities.

Teachers and support staff will likely want to discuss which level of the platform is the best fit for their students' needs. Of course, students with learning difficulties -- or those who are blind -- can use Natural Reader to gain greater access. However, a wide variety of those learning to become better readers could benefit from its use. Listening to books and other texts as they read can be a powerful strategy for just about any reader. Beyond boosting comprehension, this can give students more chances to process material in individualized ways.

When helping students revise their own writing, teachers may want to model for kids the process of editing and proofreading their work while listening to what they've written. Many students are reticent to read their own writing aloud, but hearing it read back to them -- in a natural voice -- may provide some natural engagement in the revision process.

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Natural Reader is a downloadable text-to-speech tool for any student who struggles with reading, has a cognitive disability, or simply would benefit from having text read aloud. Once downloaded, the tool can be used anywhere by simply selecting -- or copying/pasting -- text. Natural Reader can read text aloud from a variety of digital sources. Through a floating toolbar, users can access Natural Reader in different applications to hear the text read aloud in a natural-sounding voice.

The free version is simple and can be used to read any text in a document, email or web browser. Within the paid versions, students can create a sound file of a text, as well as embed the tool within an applications toolbar. Other purchased features include spell checking, conversation control and an OCR (Optical Character Reader) function. In addition, Natural Reader Cloud is available as a subscription for a monthly fee (included coverage for multiple devices). Instructions aren't available within the tool, but they're listed on the developer's website, where there's also a series of YouTube tutorials.

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As a free text-to-speech program, Natural Reader is an excellent choice. And, if you or your students have a need for the premium features, they're likely to be well worth the cost. Simplicity is by far Natural Reader's best feature -- it does precisely what it claims, and across a variety of applications. The voices are as natural-sounding as one would expect in a modern digital tool, and the floating toolbar is incredibly easy to use.

As students highlight text and hear it read aloud, they're likely to be excited about getting information that may have been more difficult to access before. That's a big deal. Natural Reader can be very empowering -- any student who could benefit from reading assistance is likely to find it both useful and engaging. While there are both mobile and desktop versions available (for Mac and PC), it's important to note that the free mobile version requires Internet access in order to function. But overall, if you're looking for a simple, free text-to-speech tool, Natural Reader is likely a natural choice.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The toolbar is easy to use as well as visually appealing. If working in other applications, a floating toolbar is also available.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids will feel empowered as they hear the reader in action. They'll gain access to material that was previously out of reach.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Users can download a help PDF on the website, and there are lots of YouTube videos to support the setup process.

Common Sense Reviewer
Adirondack AccessAbility Inc. Assistive Technology Consultants & Trainers

Teacher Reviews

(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
liz w. , Other
Natural Reader is a s l o w start without a user manual

It took me at least 2 years and several family members and a friend to get the PC version working for me. I like it very much. I just don't have the time to figure out how to do it for the internet and I am ashamed to ask my family and friends to help again. They rightly believe this isn't the product for me and I should have known better than to buy it again. I guess so, too late now, no refunds.

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