A group of us met up over lunch to test ATbar on a series of portable devices. This was very much a ‘beta’ testing session with critical friends. We filled in a test form and the results were analysed.
Some problems still need to be resolved namely:
size of icons on smart phones
selecting text for text to speech – Samsung Galaxy with Honeycomb does not work
exiting ATbar does not necessarily mean the speech stops
Windows tablet using Chrome does not allow for zoom by stretch and pinch
iPad with Safari seems to produce variable results, in particular with text highlighting
highlighting text for text to speech is not easy
It is clear that the only way ATbar can work with mobile web browsers is to have the toolbar embedded in the website’s code. It cannot be added to mobile browsers as a bookmarklet. If the toolbar is embedded the toolbar will load as it does on a desktop browser offering coloured overlays, text to speech and other text enhancements and accessibility options.
We are really exploring other voices for ATbar and felt that we needed some comparisons. The Speech Accent Archive has an interesting paragraph in English that uses nearly all the available phonemes in the language and provides users with a range of accents saying these words:
Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.
Starting with English is the easy option as we have this paragraph to test various speech synthesisers, although many of the test sites limit the number of characters allowed for testing the voices so the text has been truncated.
This month’s maintenance for the ATbar has included the updating of the wiki to include the instructions as a link from the toolbar with a small question mark icon. This has been completed in both Arabic and English and came about thanks to a question that we received via the contact form. The latter now also has our address as requested.
We also had a question about making toolbars in the market place and we have been updating the site to ensure that new toolbars can be saved as there seemed to be a problem with this aspect of the site. Making ones own toolbar is easy with a simple install to the bookmark or favorites area within the browser.
Both Nawar and Magnus have been looking into issues that affect the toolbar in terms of its presentation, such as cascading style sheets causing buttons and text to change. We are trying to find a way of eliminating these difficulties but it is easier said than done!
Nawar has also be researching issues around free and open source TTS voices to see if there are any new options or ways of developing ones ourselves. Not easy!
We have had a request for the story of ATbar and are looking forward to hearing when this will be published! Whilst researching for this article we also checked the statistics and found that we have had around 2,800 visitors to the download page (where the embed code is situated) in the last year, 1,125 WordPress plugin downloads. The total statistics for the English and the Arabic ATbar show that it has been used on 160,000 different sites and has had over 6.7 million uses in the last three years.
Nawar Halabi has very kindly provided an introductory video of the Arabic version of ATbar and we have uploaded it to YouTube.
YouTube video overview of ATbar in Arabic
Nawar has also been testing the Arabic version as part of our maintenance programme. We have found some issues with Arabic mis-aligned text at times and there are occasions when the CSS of the website needs to be isolated from the toolbar. Otherwise all the plugins appear to have worked well in the last few months.
Testing the Arabic dictionary
Testing the spell checker, text to speech and word prediction.
Where failures were reported these were double checked and found to be due to the word not being a partial word or not being in the dictionaries – usually due to an English speaking person trying to cut and past Arabic words!
There is a consensus that Arabic dictionaries,
whether printed or electronic are not user-friendly.
Rather than being tools for learning, they are a
hindrance. Their complexity and their presentations are
not conducive to learning. Consequently, their impact
on vocabulary acquisition, even though not formally
assessed, is highly negative. (Belkhouche et al, 2011)
The authors of the paper go on to say that “the printed Arabic dictionary provides a low quality, a poor presentation, a disorganized structure, and an unscientific approach. A cursory browsing of Arabic dictionaries on the library shelves highlights these deficiencies.“
Nawar and Magnus have completed the work on a new online Arabic dictionary. This has now become part of the standard Arabic ATbar and we would be very grateful if it could be tested as much as possible.
Nawar tells me that “the dictionary database includes data from two modernized Arabic dictionaries (for word look-ups) and one traditional dictionary for root look-ups. More data can be easily added in. The dictionary plugin does not only use exact match to search for words and roots in the database, but also, it uses a light stemming algorithm to increase the reliability of the search. Prefixes and suffixes and the definite articles are removed if exact matching does not return results. The order in which these prefixes and suffixes are removed is not random but based on knowledge in the language and has been tested before for applications in information retrieval.”
The suggested hybrid retrieval approach employs various clustering and
classification methods that enhances both retrieval and presentation, and infers
further information from the results returned by a primary retrieval engine,
which, in turn, uses Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) as a primary retrieval
method. In addition, a stemmer for Arabic words was designed and
implemented to facilitate the indexing process and to enhance the quality of
The dictionary database was then set up by Magnus to link with any words selected on a web page and depending on the choice of a root or the word for a definition – results are shown in what is hoped to be the most helpful way possible.
We are incredibly grateful to the work of Nawar and his brother as well as Magnus as we feel this is a first in terms of how a dictionary can be presented as an online browser plugin to support those reading Arabic texts. We are aware more dictionaries can be added and possible improvements can be made, but we need feedback as to how useful this dictionary is to users. Please leave comments!
Whilst looking at all the speech recognition apps and software available for those wishing to use Arabic speech recognition there has been some very good news and as a result I am copying the entire blog written by by Nina Curley, March 11, 2012 from Wamda
“Developers throughout the Arab World should be excited- Google’s quiet rollout of Arabic voice recognition continues to create new opportunities for localized apps.
Voice Search, an app which allows users to search by simply using their voices, launched in December but has now expanded to recognize speech in eight dialects, including, as we understand it, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Lebanese, Qatari, Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian, and Palestinian Arabic.
“I’ve never been this excited about a product in my life,” says MENA Product Marketing Manager Najeeb Jarrar, who was on the in-house team that worked for over two years to hone the app.
Google not only tackled a different algorithmic issue, from an engineering and linguistic perspective, he notes, but also built a product that will open up new ways of searching on the web and new opportunities for developers.
Here’s how it works: when you click the search button, your mobile device records your speech as a sound wave, and transfers it to a Google server, where it is compared to billions of sound waves to determine its meaning. Your sentence is then parsed by keywords and compared to billions of keyword combinations. Google uses the best keyword combination to return the results to your phone, all in under a second, depending on your internet connection.
“It’s as accurate as if you tried voice search in English,” says Jarrar. Voice Search also works in Google Maps to return place results.
To maximize its accuracy, the team worked hard to make the app robust, testing it while having local native speakers read popular queries in a train station, in a public cafe, or near echoes, so that it could detect speech patterns despite machine or human noise.
The app, which runs on Android and a feature in the Google Search app for iPhone and Blackberry, will also continue to get more accurate as its learns. If it doesn’t understand the user fully, Voice Search will offer a list of suggestions based on the closest matches, which the user can choose from, thus helping to improve future results.
Most importantly for entrepreneurs, Voice Search in Arabic will open up to localize apps, make programs simpler to use, and increase accessibility for less tech literate populations. Because Arabic voice recognition is included in the Google Voice Search API, developers can just load the API and select the dialect of their choice.
Some of the ideas that I saw recently pitched at Startup Weekend Amman and QITCOM could certainly benefit. “Maybe we’ll start seeing games where [people] are playing simply by speaking,” offers Jarrar.
Especially where those games or apps are educational- it would be great to see this space use Arabic Voice Search to expand flexibility when it comes to including different types of learners.
A visit to the Assistive Technology Industry Association 2013 conference where the Microsoft team kindly showed me how we could work in Arabic and English plus the arrival of our Dell tablet with Windows 8 has made us look at the issue of Qatari Arabic support and Windows in depth.
We downloaded the language pack and changed the keyboard and all seemed well but it appears from the email I received from their product advisor that there is no Window Arabic voice at present.
“I researched the question to see if Windows 8 supports Arabic (namely Qatari dialect) text to speech. Unfortunately, at this time, Windows 8 does not support it. Only certain languages are included in the built in software.”
So back to the drawing board for the ATbar desktop option – Narrator is not going to speak in Arabic unless someone has found an Arabic Windows system with a well hidden free voice from Microsoft! If anyone has found a solution to this problem please do let us know!
More research and thanks to a recent development with Arabic eSpeak we now have a free voice, Testing has shown that the voice needs to be improved but with work on the phonetics in the future this is something that could be done. The aim is to ship NVDA with the ATbar desktop version and the Arabic eSpeak voice. It will not really be an acceptable voice where a Nuance or Acapela option is available.
The Windows 8 mobile OS has the potential to support more Arabic options and offers translation from OCR although the actual text is still not 100% correct – Spot the problem!
We have been testing online speech recognition systems offered by Google Chrome and they really are not very successful in the Arabic dialects offered. Below is an example of Speech Recognizer in Arabic.
The TalkTyper system uses Speech Recognizer for speech recognition as well as text to speech – the latter uses a very good voice in Arabic – we are still exploring which voice is used but it sounds like Nuance Maged in Arabic.
What this spot for updates next week linked to the ATbar desktop app and ATbar TTS.
In the last blog Nawar mentioned the issues we are having with the Arabic version of Wiktionary and its presentation of definitions and alternative words when selecting text on Arabic web sites. The Wiktionary pages do not appear to be as well organised in Arabic as they are in English. They are incomplete and often return incorrect results or no results.
Arabic wiktionary homepage
In a previous blog we showed a diagram that highlighted the importance of organising the stems related to words along with the definitions taken from Wiktionary. The way the words are presented with their changing meanings is important and Maraim and Nawar have been discussing the use of crowd sourcing to achieve a successful outcome as this is not something that can be done immediately if we want to make a useful dictionary that makes the most of open source software alongside content that is also open and accessible to all.
We have been experimenting with voices on the ATbar as there has been some discussion about using a male voice as this may be more acceptable to some users. We really would value your input into these thoughts. The English version of the toolbar now has Lucy (F) and Peter (M) and the Arabic voices are now Leila (F) and Mehdi (M). This additional service comes thanks to Insipio and the work Lars and Magnus carried out over the last few weeks.
The return of the text to speech from the server has been reduced from 4 to 2 seconds – we will monitor whether this has an other unforeseen consequences.
Magnus has also add another plugin as standard to the Arabic and English toolbars. A colour overlay plugin that will allow users to read websites with less glare. There is a choice of colours – cream, pink, pale blue and pale green. We hope this will help those who have visual stress, find the glare of black on white hard to read as well as those with other specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. If you are using Chrome, Safari and FireFox browsers you will also be able to click through the overlay and even write with most forms. Sadly Opera and Internet Explorer do not support a click through ability. There is a step by step guide on the ATbar wiki in English and Arabic.
Looking to the coming months
Nawar has been working on a new dictionary that will offer users a word list that is more useful for Arabic speakers – it will be based on prefixes and suffixes with root words that may then link with Arabic Wiktionary if it exists and he is hoping to adapt the way the results are presented. It is hoped this will be finished by the end of March 2013
Magnus is working on the CSS issues that occur with some Arabic websites – we have recently been running evaluations on a series of important sites to see how prevalent the problem actually is with the poor presentation of our dialog boxes. I will be blogging about the particular issues and we will be illustrating the results of the changes as they happen. It is possible to change the dialog box for individual sites as has been done in the past but this is not the answer as sites constantly change so we need to find a robust solution that works for all. This will be finished by the end of January.
TTS free voices
TTS work has been on-going and Nawar has tried the Euler/Mbrola route which despite much experimentation has not been successful so far. eSpeak experiments are ongoing for the desktop version and it is hoped that we can still find a solution for both desktop and web based toolbar TTS functions by the end of March 2013.
Meetings with Mesar at ATSummit resulted in a discussion about NVDA being used for text to speech as well as a screen reader – in other words developing a way for the program to respond to selected text that has been visually highlighted as well as offer more options to reduce the verbosity for dyslexic users.
Arabic ATbar Desktop version (Windows Xp, 7)
We want to have a free TTS for the Windows system desktop ATbar when we link it to NVDA as at present the desktop version links to Narrator which does not read in all applications but offers good selected text to speech and screen reading feedback in Wordpad, Notepad, Internet Explorer and works with all individual letters typed as well as for all actions on the Windows desktop and with system operations -the help file has useful keyboard shortcuts.
The ATbar desktop version once installed launches at start up and has menu buttons for text to speech, coloured overlays, an onscreen keyboard and magnification as mentioned in our previous news update.
The Spell Checker service allows users to log in and adapt the spell checking feature on the toolbar by correcting words found in the spell checking dictionary and adding new options for the error correction list. This feature is available in Arabic and English and allows all those who log in to add suitable corrections for words that have been misspelled where no suitable correction has already been supplied. The alternative words provided by users will go into a moderated database. Once checked the words will appear in the spell checker. The ATbar wiki has been set up to work in English and Arabic and will be where all the supporting information about the entire ATkit can be found from guides to the framework.
Work is ongoing to produce guides for all the plugins that have been developed. The standards toolbar plugins have been completed in English and are being translated into Arabic.