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How to fix incorrect VoiceOver pronunciations

Paul Hudson       @twostraws

As clever as VoiceOver is, sometimes it will get the pronunciation wrong for certain words – particularly when it’s missing some context that would have made clear what the correct pronunciation was.

For example, if you have a UILabel containing the string “Live” should that be pronounced as “liv” or as “lyve”? Or how about “Read” – is that pronounced as “reed” or “red”? There’s no way for VoiceOver to know unless you tell it.

The official way to do this is by using the UIAccessibilitySpeechAttributeIPANotation key in an attributed string, but in practice using that just makes your sounds come out poorly.

An easier way that also produces better results is just to use your own phonetic lettering. For example:

label.text = "read"
label.accessibilityLabel = "red"

Using this approach, the screen will show “read” but VoiceOver users will hear “red” – it works for everyone.

There are two places where this approach either won’t be enough or will prove extremely complicated.

First, if you use foreign languages inside your app they will be read out as if they were the user’s primary language. So, French words might be pronounced as if they were English, for example.

Second, if your app uses punctuation that the user needs to hear audibly, the result won’t be what you hoped for. For example, if you write some Swift code like user.name that will be interpreted by VoiceOver as “user (pause) name” rather than “user period name”.

Both of these problems can be fixed by using special attributes of NSAttributedString. Annoyingly, iOS 11 introduced attributes to solve these problems, but didn’t provide an easy way to use them, so if you want to try them out you should first add this code:

extension NSAttributedStringKey {
    static let language = NSAttributedStringKey(rawValue: UIAccessibilitySpeechAttributeLanguage)
    static let punctuation = NSAttributedStringKey(rawValue: UIAccessibilitySpeechAttributePunctuation)
}

With that change we can now specify the language for an attributed string like this:

let attributedString = NSAttributedString(
    string: "Bonjour", attributes: [.language: "fr-FR"]
)

label.text = "Bonjour"
label.accessibilityAttributedLabel = attributedString

And we can tell VoiceOver to read all punctuation like this:

let attributedString = NSAttributedString(
    string: "user.name", attributes: [.punctuation: true]
)

label.text = "user.name"
label.accessibilityAttributedLabel = attributedString

Much better!

Available from iOS 11.0

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