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Using iPad VoiceOver: Making Your iPad Read Text for You in Various Languages
More iPad Tips & Tricks

Go to the General tab under Settings to activate VoiceOver. Touching lines or paragraphs on iBooks or Web pages will let your iPad read text to you.

Illustration by Jason Hidalgo

Reading is fundamental, including on the Apple iPad.

The iPad's VoiceOver function actually allows the device to read out loud icons, menus and even Web articles — quite helpful for people who might have visual impairments that make it tough to read text. Even if you can read text fine, VoiceOver is also kind of cool to just try out. If you're learning another language such as Japanese, for example, VoiceOver can read Japanese Web pages for you. Be warned, though, that VoiceOver does make certain aspects of the interface (e.g. swiping and tapping) a bit more cumbersome.

To activate VoiceOver, tap the Settings app/icon from the main menu. Then tap on the General tab and then Accessibility. At the top of the next menu, tap VoiceOver and turn it on. A confirmation menu typically comes out during the first time you do this. You might need to double tap it a few times to activate.

Once you have VoiceOver activated, you can adjust certain settings to fine tune your VoiceOver experience. Features you can adjust include Speak Hints, Use Phonetics, Use Pitch Change and Typing Feedback. You can also change the speed of the iPad VoiceOver "speech" through the "Speaking Rate" slider, which makes the reading voice slower if you drag it to the left and faster if you drag it to the right. I advise doing this with VoiceOver turned off since it's easier. Otherwise, just swipe up or down anywhere on the screen (while the slider is highlighted) to adjust the speed in 10 percent increments.

Once VoiceOver is activated, the iPad will read everything — and I mean everything — you highlight. These include App names, menus and whatever you tap. Page reading is automatic with iBooks (i.e. like after flipping a page), although you can highlight individual sentences, too. For Web pages, tapping anywhere within a paragraph will make the iPad read that particular paragraph.

VoiceOver admittedly sounds a bit robotic but is still understandable. It also has a few quirks, such as stopping mid-sentence when reading a paragraph that has a hyperlink in it. VoiceOver also changes the touch interface, which can take a while to get used to. Instead of just tapping an icon or tab once, for example, you'll need to tap it several times — once to highlight it, followed by a double tap anywhere on the screen to confirm. Swiping also requires three fingers instead of just one with VoiceOver on.

One neat thing about VoiceOver is it reads stuff like foreign Web sites for you even if you don't change your iPad's language. Naturally, VoiceOver does best with iPad-supported languages. I tried reading using it on Filipino pages (which has a pretty similar alphabet to English), for example, but the accent was so out of whack, it's hard to understand. You'll also need to change your iPad's system language through the General settings tab if you want VoiceOver to read menus in that language. The iPad supports nine languages including English, Japanese, French, Spanish and Russian.

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