For the students out there, the closing of summer means a change of scenery, from beach and bonfires to classrooms and textbooks. To ready yourself into study mode, we're highlighting six tech products to bring out the A student in you.
Readfa.st gamifies text to increase reading speeds
Even the most prepared sometimes get caught off guard by exams and quizzes. Key to cramming is reading quickly, and readfa.st is a fun bookmarklet to help you hone the skill.
Here's how it works: After you sign up for an account with readfa.st, either with Facebook Connect or your email address, you can take a series of optional quizzes to determine your word-per-minute speed and comprehension. Whenever you're reading something on the Web, pressing the bookmarklet strips the text from the page and brings it to readfa.st's platform. There, the website gamifies the copy. As you're reading, the words you've already digested fade into the background while new words come into focus. The point isn't just to achieve a high word-per-minute speed but also increase comprehension, so there are also keyboard commands to pause, quicken or slow down the pace as well. If your reading material isn't available online, you can also paste text into readfa.st instead of using the bookmarklet.
The service isn't perfect — sometimes, there's difficulty stripping text from certain websites — but it is free, so no complaints coming from me.
SoundGecko lets you listen to reading material
Taking an opposite approach, SoundGecko is a text-to-audio service that lets you listen to reading material on the go. When you find an article online you want to listen to, you can email the article to SoundGecko or use a Chrome browser extension to convert the text to speech. Then, standby a few seconds and an email with a link to the audio file, along with runtime and word count information, is sent to you. A summary also tells you how much time you saved by listening with SoundGecko.
It's fine to use the Chrome extension without registering for an account, but registering opens up a host of useful features, such as the ability to listen to your playlist from its free iPhone app and sync audio files to other devices with Dropbox and Google Drive. SoundGecko is free, but a pro version with more features is expected to come soon.
Transcribe spoken word with Dictation
Dictation is another handy Chrome extension for the classroom. Built by Amit Agarwal, founder of the Digital Inspiration blog, Dictation transcribes long narrated sentences using the browser's built-in speech recognition. Chrome already offers voice-to-speech functionality on the Web, but it is available only to certain sites. This app lets you use it on demand — wherever, whenever.
You guide the voice recognition with certain commands, such as "new line," "question mark" or "delete everything." (Just don't forget to copy and paste the text to a new location before clearing the text.) If there are mistakes in the transcription, all you have to do is click on the incorrect word to edit it.
Duolingo crowdsources language learning
Learning a foreign language? Duolingo is an online service that will reinforce your budding language skills. Currently, it has lessons for French, Spanish and German learners, focusing on vocabulary review and usage.