How to Have iOS Speak Text Back to You

In this short article I'll show you how to use Speak Text, a very handy feature where you can coerce that little person who lives in your iOS device to speak back text which appears on-screen. This is a system-wide iOS feature, which means that it’s supported by just about any app that has selectable text.

Why is this such an awesome feature? Because it’s not just an accessibility tool for those who are challenged by vision issues. For me, text-to-speech is highly useful, for example, when my eyes are tired after a long day at the computer or iPad screen. Often, when reading in very low light, or in total darkness, I tend to get eye strain, and even headaches, from the screen glare. And so, I engage the services of my motormouth marvel, close my eyes, lean back, and listen with a set of headphones plugged in.

The other major way I use the feature is as a tool for proof-reading my articles. I can catch faulty wording or awkward phrases which are most noticeable only when read back out-loud.

To use the Speak Text feature in iOS, you first need to enable it in Settings. Incidentally this is not to be confused with VoiceOver – an incredible accessibly feature that, when enabled, audibly describes what appears onscreen. This means that the iOS device can be used without you being able to see it. VoiceOver tells you about each item on the screen as you select it. For the blind, this is a phenomenal feature. For sighted users, well… just thinking of some interesting potential uses is a fun pastime.

Let’s dive in and focus on Speak Text by looking specifically at the Speak Selection controls.

By the way, even with VoiceOver turned off, you can have your device read aloud any text you select from just about anywhere: emails, web pages, RSS feeds, documents and more. 

Two iOS screens from the Accessibility Settings and the Speak Selection Settings

When tapping on Speak Selection, you have several more options to select


To enable Speak Selection go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection. You will find a number of available options, making Speak Selection quite flexible. You can: adjust the speed (rate) at which the selected text is read back, allow to have the individual words highlighted dynamically as they are spoken, and select the Voices, based on supported languages you require. 

Two iOS screens from the Accessibility Settings and the Speak Selection Settings

You can choose one or more Voices plus enable Enhanced Quality which will take up more space but the fidelity is excellent.

Once you select the desired Voice, you can choose to enable Enhanced Quality. Doing so is highly worthwhile, but at the cost of some additional storage space required to accommodate these premium Voice files. For example, enabling Enhanced Quality for American English will initiate a download from Apple, and the voice file will take up about 144 megabytes of storage.

Once Speak Selection is enabled, when any selectable text is highlighted, a popup appears just above, displaying varying numbers of options like copy, paste, define, etc. More importantly, you will also see a button labeled “Speak.” Simply tap and listen as the selected text is spoken back to you in a sultry, mellifluous voice. 

Selected text with options in popup screen including ones for speaking the selected text, including language support.

If you have multiple languages enabled, you will be presented with a language choice for text-to-speech

If you require multiple language support on your device, which iOS handles beautifully, you can also be presented with a selection of your preconfigured languages after you tap on the “Speak” button. Your selected text will then be read back in the chosen language. Of course, for this to work, you must also enable the appropriate Voices as described above. Additionally, it probably goes without saying that the text to be spoken must be written in that Voice’s language.

Finally, there is no command to have iOS read back an entire file, though there are third party apps that will import files and read them back in their entirety. One such app that I’ve used for quite a few years is Speak It! Text to Speech by Future Apps. In any case, you can always choose Select All when tapping anywhere there is text, then have all that text read back to you. 

In conclusion, we’ve examined yet another semi-hidden iOS gem that provides a great deal of utility in many situations and for any type of user.