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Post Posted:: March 11th, 2011, 10:11 pm 

Joined: January 23rd, 2006, 12:49 am
Posts: 39
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
It's great that non-native-speakers want to contribute to Librivox, but in many cases their pronunciation and accent is so bad that they can barely be understood. Potential listeners will just give up and move on to another title when encountering such incomprehensible chapters, thus wasting the time and effort of all the other volunteers who read for that particular book, and in effect removing the title from the Librivox library.

I'm an English as a Second Language teacher, and am very good at deciphering strong foreign accents, so when I have trouble understanding a non-native-speaker's reading, as is too often the case, the average listener must find it nearly impossible.

I can only assume that book coordinators and proof-listeners are being too "nice" to tell non-native-speaking readers with terrible pronunciation that they can't contribute to a work, and so we're left with numerous important titles marred by chapters that are all but unintelligible.

This problem affects a large number of titles in the Librivox library, and is a very serious matter if you regard Librivox as an important and enduring contribution to the archiving and dissemination of literature, and not just a social club or practice ground for ESL students.

I beg book coordinators and proof-listeners to be less concerned about hurting non-native-reader's feelings, and more concerned about the quality and integrity of the Librivox project. Be honest with your non-native-speaking readers when they have terrible pronunciation -- you do them no favours by pretending otherwise, and you do an even greater disservice to Librivox listeners and the project as a whole.


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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 12:16 am 

Joined: April 8th, 2006, 2:26 pm
Posts: 6647
Location: London, England
Firstly, thank you for not mentioning particular audiobooks or particular readers, and for appreciating what we're doing and caring enough about the output to take the time to comment.

There will probably be a lot of responses to your post, so I'll be brief and not try to be authoritative.

- Our mission is to make all public domain books available for free as audiobooks. The contribution of non-native English speakers (and non-native speakers of other languages too) helps us achieve that mission.
- You're quite right that the books (all chapters) should be intelligible. But that is subjective to a degree; some listeners will have difficulty understanding some readers, while others don't.
- There are other factors that would make some listeners want to skip a chapter, which we steadfastly ignore: suitability of the voice/accent to the material; characterisation; sound quality; speed or fluency of reading...
- Back to the mission. We're not aiming to please the market, or the particular listener. We're aiming to get the audiobooks made and released.
- Being nice is a big part of the ethos here. Not only is it a pleasant place to be, it's also encouraging and productive. The catalogue grows so quickly because people arrive not really knowing whether they can do this, but are encouraged, and allowed to be not very good (I'm thinking of myself as a starter nearly 5 years ago), and then stay and perhaps improve.

Others will no doubt be more thorough and eloquent in their replies...

David


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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 12:56 am 

Joined: January 23rd, 2006, 12:49 am
Posts: 39
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I agree nice is nice -- very nice! And more power to non-native-speakers contributing. But a lot of them do need help with pronunciation, especially for less common words or words common in written English but rare in spoken.

One quick suggestion -- find free or cheap text to speech applications, e.g. by googling "text to speech apps". If you have a Mac, any text pasted into TextEdit (included w Mac) can be heard spoken by choosing Speech under the Edit menu.

Once you have such an app, paste the text of what you're going to read into the app, and listen to each paragraph before reading it, so the correct pronunciations will be fresh in your mind. It will be a great learning experience for non-native-speakers, and you'll have fewer pronunciation errors in your Librivox reading, making it much easier for listeners to understand.

A second suggestion -- confirm proper pronunciation of first & last names of important characters in the book you're reading for Librivox, practice em and make sure you've got them right by sending samples to book coordinator or whoever's appropriate (proof-listener, a native-speaking fellow reader, etc.). It's really important that all the readers pronounce characters' names the same, or listeners can get very confused.


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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 3:34 am 
LibriVox Admin Team

Joined: April 3rd, 2008, 3:55 am
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Location: Melbourne,Australia
It all does sound so simple when you put it like that - but it isn't. English is not pronounced the same way in many countries which are "native English speaking" for a start, I do not really know about Canada but I do know that there is a great variation in the way words are said in various regions of the UK and the USA just as an example. Our policy is that as long as a reading is understandable it is accepted - and in most cases it works pretty well.
Everyone is happier with accents they are used to hearing but we are an international site dealing with an international language and we encourage people to produce 2nd and 3rd versions of any book if they wish, so maybe one day everyone will be able to have their tastes catered for - or maybe people will get used to different accents :D

Anne

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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 5:47 am 

Joined: June 27th, 2007, 7:04 am
Posts: 2261
Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Delysid wrote:
I agree nice is nice -- very nice! And more power to non-native-speakers contributing. But a lot of them do need help with pronunciation, especially for less common words or words common in written English but rare in spoken


We've had other threads about pronunciation here at LibriVox. Obviously, we won't be able to make the recordings intelligible for everyone. There are a few examples where English people have been given subtitles when appearing on American television. Jordan (Katy Price) is a good example. Many Americans found it difficult to understand her, even though English is her native language. Book Coordinators and PL-ers need to check that recordings are intelligible. It also depends on whether they select Standard or Word Perfect standards of PL-ing. These things are dealt with on a project-by-project basis.

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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 6:55 am 

Joined: January 21st, 2009, 12:33 pm
Posts: 5083
Location: Arlington, MA
Nicholas19 wrote:

We've had other threads about pronunciation here at LibriVox. Obviously, we won't be able to make the recordings intelligible for everyone. There are a few examples where English people have been given subtitles when appearing on American television. Jordan (Katy Price) is a good example. Many Americans found it difficult to understand her, even though English is her native language. Book Coordinators and PL-ers need to check that recordings are intelligible. It also depends on whether they select Standard or Word Perfect standards of PL-ing. These things are dealt with on a project-by-project basis.


Agree! Frankly there are a lot of non-native speakers whose readings I find perfectly understandable, whereas my American Midwestern ears have a terrible time understanding someone from, say, Glasgow or Derbyshire, even though both of us may only speak English. There are also a couple of LV readers, who of course I won't name, who I found totally unintelligible when I first started listening, but as I listened to more of their recordings, my ear became accustomed to their accents and now I understand them just fine. The question of "mis" pronunciation is a slightly different one, but I'd just say, with character names for instance, in many cases there's no real standard for how they "should" be pronounced.

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Post Posted:: March 12th, 2011, 7:09 am 

Joined: April 30th, 2006, 2:17 pm
Posts: 16693
Location: Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada
I had a listener post that they couldn't understand my 'Canadian' accent. I only speak English and always thought I had pretty good diction. <shrug>

Esther :)

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Post Posted:: March 15th, 2011, 6:46 am 

Joined: March 9th, 2009, 7:47 am
Posts: 12825
Location: French in Denmark
And then there's the non-native who have problems understanding "fake" accents (say Welsh).
We're very few French speaking people and even there we have discovered that we pronounce things differently :shock:

ETA: thanks for the tip about Textedit's speech function, I did not know that!

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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 12:12 am 

Joined: January 23rd, 2006, 12:49 am
Posts: 39
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I've found, after listening to well over 100 novels on Librivox, probably over 200, that severe unintelligibility problems only occur with non-native speakers.

A native English speaker, no matter how weird or obscure their accent, is not so hard to get used to because their pronunciation will tend to differ from the "norm" (i.e. standard American TV or UK BBC accented English) in a systematic & predictable way that your brain can acclimatize to fairly easily.

But a non-native speaker with a "bad" accent is harder to understand because their mispronunciations are more random and unpredictable, including not just problems with vowel sounds (which tend to be more variable than consonants) but also their cadence, rhythm, and stress patterns will be "wrong" in a way that even the most exotic native-English accent isn't, and so is very hard to understand.

I guess my main point is that if a well-intentioned non-native speaker submits a chapter that is extremely difficult or even impossible to understand (and I've heard more than a few such), the book coordinator or proof-listeners shouldn't just let that chapter become part of the finished work out of niceness, cuz it so badly mars the entire book -- like a physical book with chapters printed so badly they're unreadable.

Not sure what the solution is, but maybe they could tell the reader about the problem and ask them to find a native-speaking friend who can help coach them through a rereading of the text?

As for providing a 2nd version of a work that contains unintelligible chapters -- if there are, say, only 6 chapters out of 50 with this problem, it seems a lot of unnecessary and redundant work to have to produce an entire 2nd version when really only 6 of the chapters need rereading. I wonder if volunteers could submit readings just of chapters they've found unintelligible, and these could be optionally downloaded by listeners?

Anyway, there's a workaround I use when encountering such chapters, but I'll submit it as a separate post to this thread in a moment. It may be the best solution, in terms of ease of implementation and not hurting anyone's feelings.


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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 12:32 am 

Joined: January 23rd, 2006, 12:49 am
Posts: 39
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
A Quick & Dirty (but Effective) Workaround for Unintelligible Chapters:
-----------------------------------------------------------

So you're listening to a Librivox book, and come across a chapter where you really can't make out what the reader is saying.

1) Go to the Librivox page for that work, and click the "Gutenberg e-text", "Wikipedia e-text" or equivalent link to get to the original work in pure text form.

2) On the e-text page, find the chapter in question -- usually easiest using the HTML version of the text.

3) Now, you have two options. You can sit and read the text through yourself, obviously. Or have the computer read it to you in a synthesized voice. On a Mac, in System Preferences > Speech, choose the Alex voice -- it's the newest and most sophisticated synthetic voice of the ones that come with the Mac OS X, and by far the easiest to understand.

You can set a key combo in the System Preferences Speech pane that when pressed will read to you whatever text is highlighted at the moment. So highlight the whole chapter, then hit whatever key combo you've set, and the computer will read it to you.

Alternately, you can have the computer-voiced reading of the highlighted text added to iTunes as a spoken track. Look under the leftmost menu of your browser, which will be the name of the browser app (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, Safari), and to go the Services submenu. There you'll see the option "Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track". Choose it, and your highlighted text will be converted to voice and added to your iTunes music library with the generic title "Text to Speech", a title you can change. Then you can play it in iTunes, put it on your iPod, or whatever.

A whole book read even by the advanced-voice-technology Alex might get a bit boring, cuz he's not human after all. But for the odd chapter, his reading is pretty easy to understand, and it's a very adequate solution.


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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 1:21 am 

Joined: March 9th, 2009, 7:47 am
Posts: 12825
Location: French in Denmark
Sorry, I'm trying hard not to get offended here. But it seems you mean well, so I'll try to behave :D

You say above that rerecording a whole book is not easy and not worth it if it is only a few chapters that are unintelligibly read (I'll just mention here that some US readers are quite unintelligible to me, while non-native are not). We have sometimes rerecorded alternative versions of just some chapters in a book, so really there is no need to redo the whole book.

I find it quite weird to prefer a synthetic voice over a human one. After all, the world has become an open place, and surely you do meet people in real life whose English is not so intelligible? Isn't it a good thing to get used to?

And, lastly, my own English has improved a lot since I joined LV. And no, non-native cannot always just record in their own language, simply because we are too few. And we need a place to start.

I'll have to try that Alex guy out at some point.

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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 4:23 am 

Joined: January 21st, 2009, 12:33 pm
Posts: 5083
Location: Arlington, MA
Quote:
As for providing a 2nd version of a work that contains unintelligible chapters -- if there are, say, only 6 chapters out of 50 with this problem, it seems a lot of unnecessary and redundant work to have to produce an entire 2nd version when really only 6 of the chapters need rereading. I wonder if volunteers could submit readings just of chapters they've found unintelligible, and these could be optionally downloaded by listeners?


This is always an option and we strongly invite you to do so yourself. The reason you don't see many books offering this option is that of all the people who have complained about unintelligible chapters, very, very few have volunteered to record themselves.

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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 5:41 am 

Joined: June 17th, 2010, 1:28 pm
Posts: 4702
Location: The Big Apple
Delysid,

Although I understand that your intentions are good and that you're trying to be helpful, you are trying to fix something that LibriVox does not see as a problem. So, no matter how much you try to convince us that there is a problem, we are not going to agree.

We have one goal: Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.

We have several standards, one of which is that each recording must be understandable. If a proof listener finds a recording understandable, that's good enough for us. Proofreaders do not just say "PL OK" on recordings that they can't understand. Your suggestion that they've done so, just because you can't understand them, is offensive and wrong.

(Personally, out of the hundreds of recordings by non-native speakers I've listened to, I've only found one that I couldn't understand. I played it for two house guests and they both found the speaker's accent lovely and understood every word. So, it wasn't the reader's problem at all. It was mine.)

I'm sorry that you can't understand some recordings. But, if the PLs have found them understandable, that's good enough for us. We've achieved our goal. There is no problem to fix.

Cheers,

John

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"...what kind of internal wiring in my grandmother's mind enabled her...To condense fact from the vapor of nuance." -- Neal Stephenson


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Post Posted:: March 19th, 2011, 8:54 pm 

Joined: February 15th, 2009, 6:25 pm
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Location: Florida
The thread-starter reminds me of the librarian in Sophie's Choice who is so nasty to Sophie's innocent and lovely request for a collection of works by 'great American poet Emil Dickens'. The librarian is a malicious quisling who most certainly knows that this earnest Polish immigrant wants a book by Emily Dickinson but has lost sight of what a library is really about, namely a place for people who love books.

There are at least two readers in the LV catalog with strong Eastern European accents reading --- lovingly --- works by British and American writers. We are not just being 'kind' to these folks -- we genuinely welcome their presence.

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Post Posted:: March 20th, 2011, 1:51 pm 

Joined: March 20th, 2011, 12:35 am
Posts: 16
BellonaTimes wrote:
The thread-starter reminds me of the librarian in Sophie's Choice who is so nasty to Sophie's innocent and lovely request for a collection of works by 'great American poet Emil Dickens'. The librarian is a malicious quisling who most certainly knows that this earnest Polish immigrant wants a book by Emily Dickinson but has lost sight of what a library is really about, namely a place for people who love books.


I'm surprised at this response to what was a very gentle and constructive criticism. Since the original poster was neither "nasty," nor "malicious," nor a "quisling," nor has he forgotten that this is a place for those who love books (he is concerned that the books by enjoyed by those for whom they are recorded - the listeners), I don't see the parallel. He wants non-native speakers to participate and even made extensive suggestions on how to improve their reading, specifically for their own benefit as well as for the readers.

I would personally like to see non-native English speakers reading more in their mother tongues. Not because I don't want them to read in English, but because I have many friends who are not English speakers that I would like to point to Librivox, but the offerings in their own languages are so few that it isn't worth it.


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