Listen to Any Good Books Lately?

October 29, 2007 · Posted in audio, Tools · 1 Comment 

Today’s post points to a variety of free online audio resources. These resources can provide valuable primary and supplemental tools for teaching and review as well as links to research materials for students.

LibriVox is the mother-of-all free audiobook resources on the ‘Net. Nearly 1000 titles are available, all searchable by title, author, category, and genre. Most of the classics are here as well as many modern and contemporary essays. Files are available in mp3 or ogg vorbis formats. Where available, links are provided to text versions (e.g., from Project Gutenberg) of the material. All recorded books are in the public domain in the US, and all are read by human readers. There is an RSS feed available to alert you when new materials are added, and you can even volunteer to be a reader.

Project Gutenberg Audio Books
Known mostly for its vast array of public domain print books, Project Gutenberg also offers many of its titles as audiobooks. Entries are read by human readers (or by synthesized voices; see below) and are available in many different audio formats, including mp3, m4b (iTunes/iPod), and ogg vorbis. Project Gutenberg no longer adds synthesized books to its library, preferring instead to use human readers, but they are migrating to an “on demand” service for delivering synthesized text to visually-impaired individuals. My favorite feature of PG is the full-text search capabilities, allowing the reader to search for occurrences of words or phrases within the texts themselves. Of course, PG also supports searching by author, title, etc.

Free Classic Audiobooks
This site offers a limited range of titles (around 60), but the offerings are compelling–from Huckleberry Finn to Alice in Wonderland to Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Notes from the Underground to the 911 Commission Report. Roughly half are read by humans; the remaining titles using an “advanced” synthesized speech that is quite understandable. All titles are available in mp3 format and in m4b format for iPod or iTunes. Books are segmented into chapters for easier downloading or downloading of specific chapters (great for review purposes). I love throwing these on my iPod for long car rides. They also make great review items for high school British and American literature classes.
This web site is a portal to thousands of online books, lectures, podcasts, and videos on a wide variety of topics. Some are for purchase, but LearnOutLoud offers a directory of hundreds of free audio and video resources arranged by topic, including Arts, Literature, Science, and Language. (Scroll down the page to find the free directory.) Items in a topic can be sorted in several ways, including alphabetically, by author, or by title popularity.

I Hear Voices

October 9, 2007 · Posted in audio, Tools · Comment 

Three very interesting web sites came my way in the last few days, all dealing with the spoken word. Each is a fascinating resource with lots of potential for teaching and research.

The goal of Historical Voices is “to create a significant, fully searchable online database of spoken word collections spanning the 20th century – the first large-scale repository of its kind. Historical Voices will both provide storage for these digital holdings and display public galleries that cover a variety of interests and topics.” The current galleries point to a wide variety of rich content, and the site features excellent Research and Education areas that include lesson plans, tips for creating aural resources, and example lessons. Historical Voices uses a Flash-based player for audio files stored on its own site, but you may find that you’ll need a variety of audio players (e.g., Real Player) for some of the off-site links.

Talking History takes a somewhat different approach to preserving and presenting aural history. Their mission–“to provide teachers, students, researchers and the general public with as broad and outstanding a collection of audio documentaries, speeches, debates, oral histories, conference sessions, commentaries, archival audio sources, and other aural history resources as is available anywhere”–is similar to that of Historical Voices (above). To implement their mission, Talking History produces a series of eponymous weekly radio/Internet broadcasts which are archived on the web site and are fully searchable. Other educational and production resources are available as well. Aural files are accessible through Real Player or may be listed to as mp3 files with QuickTime Player, iTunes, or virtually any media player.

Finally, there is the Speech Accent Archive. This site “uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed.” It provides a fascinating way to explore different accents. Speakers are categorized by biographical data (age, gender, birthplace, native language, age of English acquisition, etc.) and their speech is carefully transliterated into a native phonetic inventory which is thoroughly documented on the site. You can browse for speakers by language or region, and there is an excellent bibliography of language resources and links to related web sites. The audio files are in QuickTime (.mov) format.