As you may have noticed, OS X is quite talented when it comes to speech. Its abilities fall into three categories: typing out what you say, reading text aloud using a synthesized voice, and obeying spoken commands. For details on OS X’s dictation feature, see Case Swapping. For more on the spoken commands thing, see Dictation.
But to make the Mac talk, read on.
Most Apple programs have a Start Speaking command built right in: Safari, Mail, TextEdit, Messages, Stickies, Pages, and so on. Just right-click (or two-finger click) inside a window full of text and, from the pop-up menu, choose Speech→Start Speaking. How cool is that? Your Mac can read your email or a web article to you while you’re getting dressed.
You can add a Speak command in FileMaker Pro scripts. OS X’s Chess and Calculator programs can talk back, too.
But that’s kid stuff. Truth is, the Mac can read almost anything you like: text you pass your cursor over, alert messages, menus, and any text document in any program. It can speak in your choice of dozens of synthesizer voices, ages 8 to 50. Most read with a twangy, charmingly Norwegian accent—but some of the newest voices (like Alex, Jill, Samantha, and Tom) sound scarily like a professional human voice-over artist.
This text-reading business is not the same thing as the Mac’s VoiceOver feature. VoiceOver is designed to read everything on the screen, including pop-up menus, buttons, and other controls, to visually impaired Mac fans (and to permit ...