Thursday 30 October 2008

Text to Speech Movies for EFL ESL

Yesterday on my Quick Shout blog, I wrote about a new tool called Xtranormal for creating text to speech animated movies. Since then I've had a little time to put together a tutorial video and think about how to use it in the classroom. First I thought I'd show you what extra normal produces.

There is quite a range of characters and backgrounds so the possibilities for creating situational dialogues is terrific and you can also build these scenes into a series, so this would be great for longer projects too. Here's a quick look at how a movie is created.

So how can we use this with our students?
  • We can use it as a novel way to present language in context by creating small scenes for our students to watch.
  • We can get our students to create dialogues for specific contexts. You could even give students specific tasks (Convince your partner that taxis are better than buses - Try to convince your partner to buy shares in Mircosoft and not Apple) get the students to work in pairs, taking it in turns to create each side of the dialogue, then they can show the class their work.
  • You can get students to create news reports and then create a movie of their own news bulletin.
  • You or your students could create monologues of characters telling jokes or stories or reading poems and develop this into an animated talent show.
  • Their is both a rating feature and a comments feature, so once students have finished their work they can look at and rate each others' videos
  • There is also a 'Remix' button on each movie which enables you to grab a copy of someone else movie and make it your own and remix / change it. You could create movies with errors in the script and ask the students to remix the movie and take out the errors.
  • You could create a movie with only one half of the dialogue. Your students would then have to remix it and add the script for the missing person
  • You could create the first scene from a story and get your students to create the next scene.
  • You could show your students scenes from real films or a TV series and then see how much of the scene they can recreate.
  • You could get students to create their own soap opera, adding a new scene each week.
What I like about it
  • Well it's free (at the moment) and it's quick and easy to use?
  • It's a way of giving students a 'finished product' to showcase the language they are learning.
  • It's entertaining and creative.
  • It's a very flexible and adaptable tool and could be used by students (over 13 years old) or by you to create materials for your students. You could use it to create materials for young learners through to business courses.
  • It's a way of getting students to listen and to write.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Well I'm not sure how long it will be free. There are signs that the owners intend to start charging, though no signs of how much or whether there would still b a free option.
  • Some of the voices that create the speech from the text don't always sound 100% real, though in cartoon type animation I think this is reasonably acceptable.
  • Not everyone using the site is doing so for educational purposes, s some of the animations that are already there could be inappropriate for younger learners or offensive to older ones.
Well I hope you find the time to try Xtranormal with your students and by all means share any ideas, tips or materials you create (just add a link in the comments).

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Nik Peachey


Beth Holmes said...

Hi, Nik! Thanks to your lead, I just had a blast creating a movie in XTRANORMAL! My video is a spoof for use in our professional development Ning. I think it will get a few laughs from the teachers who feel a lot of pressure to work together! I hope you will go see it!

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Beth

Great video! I hope it does the trick.



Anonymous said...

Hi Nik,

I work at Xtranormal. Thank you for the great comments you made on our site. I wish to answer few of the questions you had.

Some pieces of the site, such as the universes already released : the Playgo characters and the Black& White will always remain free and some others as well. So a user will always be able to do movies for free. But, in a short period of time, we will be issuing value-added characters, improved voices and gestures that will give a lot more quality to the rendered movies. We think some people will be willing to pay for these. Those who are not ready to pay can use the free universes.

As for the voices, we are planning to have about 45 languages available in a very near futur. Different voice intonations are also in the plans.

Finally you are right, our site for now targets kids 13 and up. We know the technology has a great potential for younger kids also but we do not have the ressources for now to develop and maintain a portal specifically for young kids. But this is obviously in the mid-term plan. So the more people use the site, the fastest we will be able to offer new environments, characters, assets, and services :)

Come visit us often. There is a lot more to come


Nik Peachey said...

Hi Marie

Firstly, thanks for a really useful tool. I think xtranormal has huge potential as an educational tool.

Secondly, thanks for the comments and information, especially the bit about some elements remaining free. That's really great news.

I have no objection to companies charing for thier products so it's great to know that there is a business plan there to support the service, it's just that charging for things tends to put them out of reach of the vast majority of teachers and students around the world.

Thanks for the site, best wishes for your future success and thanks for keeping some stuff free for us.



Nik Peachey said...

Hi All,

I'm reposting now a comment left by someone called Liz. I've decided to repost it because I wanted to take out some bad language that might be offensive, but I think that the comment is a very valid one so here it is:

"Unfortunatley although it says it is suitable for 13+ it appears to contain direct access to forums for all users, and their quite frequently offensive names such as [edit] top etc."

I think Liz has a really good point here and is right to be careful about what she exposes her students to. I do however feel that censoring every site which might have a user who gives themselves a stupid name is going a bit far. I think rather than censorship we should be giving our students tools, strategies and information to help them deal with potentially offensive materials.

If we go the route of censorship then any social networking website that carries any user generated content or interaction, or just about anything on the internet will soon be excluded from our students education! I really don't think that is the answer and certainly isn't going to be a positive step for our children's education.



Anonymous said...

simple downlaoad the movie and host it elsewhere if you do not want students to be exposed such threats.

Anonymous said...

What a great tool! Thanks Nik.

I'll have to add this and your site, to my reviews section. I think my students are going to love it too.

All the best


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