Veronica With Four Eyes

How To Use Select to Speak on Android

As someone with fluctuating low vision, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how glad I am that I learned how to use Select-to-speak on Android. I love the idea of having my phone talk to me and having a screen reader, but I don’t constantly need one and dislike the idea of having to switch back and forth between apps. Luckily, Select-to-speak allows me to have the best of both worlds- a screen reader that’s there when I need it most. Here are my tips for how to use Select-to-speak on Android for low vision users who use a screen reader part-time or just need help reading information on their phones.

What is Select-to-speak?

Select-to-speak is an on-demand screen reader from Google that reads selected text on the screen, as well as alt text and other elements on the page that would traditionally be read out loud by a screen reader. Users can tap the play button to hear everything on the screen, or tap/drag their fingers to select single or multiple items when Select-to-Speak is enabled. This feature is available in all Android versions starting at Android Lollipop (version 5).

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Is there a difference between Select-to-speak and TalkBack?

While Select-to-speak and TalkBack use the same settings when it comes to text-to-speech, the main difference is that TalkBack is always on and reading information, while Select-to-speak can be accessed with just a push of a button whenever needed.

As a user with low vision, I prefer to use Select-to-speak over TalkBack for the following reasons:

  • I prefer to read large print or use screen magnification whenever possible
  • My phone has a custom gesture layout that I designed with Buzz Launcher, so I don’t need any assistance accessing my phone’s homescreen
  • Google Assistant can make calls, send texts, and do a lot of other tasks for me so I don’t have to worry about constantly listening to a screen reader.

I’m not sharing these reasons to talk back about TalkBack, but rather to show my own technology preferences for how I use my Android phone with low vision.

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How to enable Select-to-speak

Users can enable Select-to-speak on their Android phone by following these directions:

  1. Open the settings menu and navigate to the “Accessibility” section
  2. Under the “Screen Readers” section, select the option for “Select to Speak”
  3. Move the slider to “on”

Add as an accessibility shortcut

After enabling Select-to-speak, I highly recommend adding it as an accessibility shortcut, which can be accessed by tapping the accessibility icon at the bottom of the screen- on my phone, it is a small icon on a person on the far right side. By tapping the icon, I can instantly activate Select-to-Speak no matter what app I am using.

Adjusting text-to-speech output

There are a couple of different ways to adjust the text-to-speech output for Select-to-speak, though it’s worth noting that these are the same settings used for TalkBack. Users can access the settings for Text-to-speech output under the “Screen Readers” section.

Google Text-to-speech engine

By clicking the settings option, users can select the following options:

  • Use Wi-Fi only for downloading voice data (I have this turned off by default)
  • Amplify spoken text to make spoken text louder than other audio
  • Intonation- change speech patterns, mine is set to Expressive
  • Number processing for improving how dates and times are spoken (mine is on)
  • Language detection for improving how foreign languages are detected (mine is set to conservative, which does not detect language changes as well)


Users can set the language of their choice to be used for Select-to-Speak and TalkBack. Even though I live in the United States, I prefer the English (Australia) language setting for my screen reader because it sounds different from the other virtual assistant tools that I interact with, and sounds distinctive when I am in a room with other screen reader users.

Other settings

Users can also adjust the speech rate and pitch for their Text-to-speech voice. I choose to have mine be fairly slow and at a normal pitch. I recommend enabling Select-to-speak when testing voice settings as it tends to read at a faster rate than the preview option at the bottom of the Text-to-speech menu.

What I use it for

Here are the ways I have used Select-to-speak in the last hour:

  • Reading an image description on Twitter
  • Checking a text message from a friend
  • Showing a different friend with no usable vision a strange email I received
  • Accessing a food delivery app
  • Having a list I wrote in Google Keep read out loud

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Final thoughts

I love using Select-to-speak as an Android user with low vision, because I do not like constantly having a screen reader enabled since I prefer to use my vision whenever possible. For other low vision users who benefit from a screen reader but don’t always need it, I highly recommend enabling Select-to-speak, as it will make a huge difference with how you read information on your phone!

How To Use Select to Speak on Android. When you need a screen reader, but don't need it all the time, look no further than Android's Select-to-speak feature!