Making JAWS Read Letters as You Type

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

JAWS 16 and later users can obtain right to left support and access to a Hebrew voice that will pronounce words using Israeli pronunciation. You must contact Freedom Scientific support for this feature. The synthetic speech will process modern and biblical Hebrew alike and is excellent in quality. For braille support of biblical Hebrew, please see other pages on this site.

Male and female Vocalizer voices that use modern Greek pronunciation are available to download without special restrictions. Visit the Freedom Scientific downloads page and choose the voice you wish to use. Please note that if you have studied Biblical Greek in a university setting and have never been exposed to modern Greek, this pronunciation will sound very different from what you are accustomed to. These voices do not handle breathings or pronounce the accent names as they are used in American Greek courses. Some accent names are completely ignored.

Setting Up Your Hebrew Voice Profile in JAWS 16 or Later

In JAWS 16 and later, once you have obtained Hebrew support and downloaded the Hebrew voice, set your voice profile to Vocalizer and set your profile so that each language enabled for your computer uses an appropriate Vocalizer voice. JAWS will now read text automatically using the appropriate voice whenever it encounters it.

Note: It is not possible to switch automatically between Hebrew Vocalizer and English Eloquence. You can, however, do this manually if you wish to use Eloquence while reading a document that is entirely in English. Eloquence will ignore Hebrew text.

If you have used my old solution in the past to enable identification of Hebrew letters with Eloquence, this solution does not work with any version of JAWS after 13. I recommend updating to JAWS 17 and requesting the proper support for Hebrew. It is far superior to anything I was ever able to devise.

If you are using JAWS 16 or later and wish to have Hebrew and Greek characters read as you type, simply set JAWS to announce all characters as you type.

The old Solution

For users of JAWS 12, because occasionally I still find one lurking:

Older versions of JAWS cannot pronounce words from the Hebrew or Greek languages; but in some cases these versions can be configured to speak the individual letters correctly so that you can edit your writing. Some limitations apply. JAWS 13 through 15 will not display or pronounce Hebrew letters at all. Greek support, so far, is not inhibited up to JAWS 14.

If you are using JAWS 12 or earlier and you wish to configure the pronunciation of letters, you are welcome to use my pronunciation tables. You need only to paste them into the file that controls the pronunciation of letters and be sure that the entries in the file are numbered consecutively. The numbering is important–JAWS may fail to read a character correctly if two characters are represented by the same entry. Note that if you study both Hebrew and Greek, you will need both tables. If renumbering entries is too much work, follow the instructions in step 1 below and then skip to the step for downloading table. Note: If you do this, you will lose some new characters that Freedom Scientific adds in when they release new versions of JAWS. These are typically higher math signs; and I do not reorder my numbering to leave them in the speech table since I do not need them. If you need them, you will have to renumber the table.

Before installing anything:

  1. First, be sure your system is optimized so that you can see your system-level program files. These files are hidden by default. Additionally, you need to be able to identify the correct file by its extension (the .sbl part). The following steps will make this possible.
    1. Open the control panel and go to folder options. (If you are in Windows 7 and your control panel is arranged by category, click on appearance and then on folder options.
    2. On the view tab, go to the tree view and press down arrow to move to the items that need changing, and press the spacebar to change the state of each item.
      • Show system folders: check this to turn on. Screen reader should say checked or on.
      • Do not show hidden files: uncheck this to turn off. Screen reader should say not checked or off.
      • Show hidden files: check this to turn on.
    3. Press space on ok until you are out, and exit control panel.

Note: After implementing these changes, it will be possible to delete important files that Windows needs in order to function correctly. If you do not trust yourself in this area, reverse these changes after setting up the JAWS table. If you leave the changes in place, be very careful what you delete.

  1. Go to start menu, JAWS [your version], explore JAWS, explore my settings.
    Skip to download instructions or proceed to next step to modify your files manyally.
  2. Using NotePad or another plain-text editor, open the .sbl file for the speech synthesizer you use. For example, if you use Eloquence, open eloq.sbl. (If this file does not exist in your settings directory, you’ll need to copy it from the Jaws default settings folder.)
  3. Move your cursor to the bottom of the language-specific section for the language you are using. For example, if you use American English with Eloquence, you would position your cursor at the end of the line immediately above the label [British English]. Press enter to create a blank line. (British English follows American English in the file.) Note that the last line in this section begins with the word “symbol” and a number. The Hebrew or Greek symbols you insert should continue this numbering.
  4. Right-click on the following link: Hebrew_SBL.txt or Greek_SBL.txt and choose “save target as” from the context menu. Do not press enter on this link, as it will not display correctly in Internet Explorer. Save this file on your desktop, or in any other convenient folder. This file contains the Unicode values of all of the Hebrew and Greek characters, along with their names, in the appropriate format for a Jaws synthesizer file. Of course, if you don’t like the names in this file, you can edit them to any value you want.
  5. Open this file, edit the symbol numbers if necessary so that the first one corresponds to the number that should be next in your .sbl file, and copy the entire contents to the clipboard.
  6. Paste the entire contents of Hebrew_SBL.txt or Greek_SBL.txt (which you just copied to the clipboard) into the .sbl file you have opened, at the cursor position specified above.
  7. Save the .sbl file, then exit and restart Jaws.

It is very important to note that these files sometimes contain differing numbers of special characters. If you have added any special characters to your eloq.sbl or RealSpeak.sbl file, they will not be present and thus JAWS will no longer speak them after you install my file. The characters at the end of the list are generally the most technical in nature. If you do not know anything about the list, you will not likely miss them; but you should back up your file so that you can retrieve it if necessary.

  1. Download the synthesizer file you wish to use:
  2. To back up your synthesizer file before installing mine, rename it to [synthesizer.old] (e.g. eloq.old or RealSpeak.old).
  3. Copy the new downloaded file into your JAWS settings directory.
  4. Unload and restart JAWS.

If you have information to add to this page, or if you need assistance, please email me.

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