[ Beneath the Waves ]

Give Your Android Phone A British Accent

article by Ben Lincoln


I know a few people who have Windows® phones. One of the stand-out features that always made me jealous is that the GPS navigation software includes a set of different voices to choose from — and at least one of them has a British accent. For some time, I thought there was no way to achieve the same effect on an Android phone, but fortunately I discovered that the OS-level language and text-to-speech settings can be used to accomplish it instead. Furthermore, with the addition of an inexpensive extension for Chrome, it becomes possible to cause the (very impressive) TTS engine to speak arbitrary text.

Actual output of the Android Google Maps application using the high-quality female British voice pack.

British-accented navigation instructions

These instructions were written using a Sony Xperia Z1s running Android 4.3 (and, later, 4.4) on the T-Mobile network. They may vary slightly with other Android releases, or other makes/models of phone.

There are two subsets of work in this section — using UK English as the system-level language, and installing the necessary high-quality language packs to go with it.

A graphical guide to the various steps follows immediately after the written instructions.

  1. Open the Android Settings.
  2. Tap Language & input.
  3. At the top of the screen, tap the Language entry, and choose English (United Kingdom) in the list.
  4. Scroll down further in the Language & input screen, until you get to the Speech section.
  5. Tap Text-to-speech output.
  6. Ensure that Google Text-to-speech engine is selected, then tap the wrench/screwdriver icon to its right.
  7. Tap Install voice data.
  8. Tap English (United Kingdom).
  9. If they are not already installed, tap the download icons to the right of Female (high quality) and Male (high quality).
  10. Once any necessary downloading is complete, select one of the high-quality language packs in the same screen that you used to download them from — this is where the active text-to-speech language pack is selected at an OS-level.
  11. Optionally, download some of the foreign language packs — you won't be able to use them to speak accented English in Maps, but they can be used a little later in the section about Chrome Reader.
  12. Back in the Google Text-to-speech engine settings screen, tap the Language entry and select English (United Kingdom) (this is separate from having selected the language pack in the Install voice data screen.
  13. For maximum effect, in the Google Maps application settings, switch the Distance units to kilometers, if you haven't done so already.
Setup Instructions — Part One
[ Setup Instructions ]
Setup Instructions



I was actually quite surprised at how convincing Google's text-to-speech engine is in nearly every case — even when using Chrome Reader to speak arbitrary text (see below). Perhaps sooner or later they will go even further and provide more regional accent variations.

Accented arbitrary text-to-speech

Out-of-the-box, there does not seem to be a way to feed arbitrary text to the TTS engine. However, the Chrome Reader extension adds this capability, and even though it is commercial (about US$1.99 when I purchased it) and slightly buggy, it is well worth the cost, as you'll no doubt soon agree.

Chrome Reader is triggered by selecting text in the Android Chrome browser, then copying it to the clipboard. If all goes well, it should immediately be routed to the text-to-speech engine, and you can save the results to a WAV file by clicking the green square icon in the popup menu.

One way to route truly arbitrary text to the TTS engine using Chrome Reader is to email it to yourself, access the email via a webmail client (in Chrome), and copy the desired text to the clipboard. You could also use e.g. Pastebin, or a web forum.

I have a reputation at work for discovering new things for the Incident Response team to work on, so one of the first products I created using this ability was a pair of mp3s they could use for their "new mail" notification sounds in Outlook:

Setup Instructions — Part Two
[ Using Chrome Reader to speak arbitrary text ]
Using Chrome Reader to speak arbitrary text



On my phone, at least, Chrome Reader is a bit tempermental, but this set of steps will generally get it working correctly again:

  1. If the Chrome Reader pop-up window is already open, click the red square icon to close it.
  2. Go back into the Google Text-to-speech engine settings (see previous instructions).
  3. Switch to a different language pack (e.g. if you are using the male British pack, switch to the female British pack).
  4. Switch back to the language pack you'd like to use.
  5. From the Android home screen, open Chrome Reader.
  6. Click the Pitch & Speed button, and in that section, use the test functionality — you should hear speech to the effect of "Chrome Reader pitch and speed is now set".
  7. Switch back to Chrome.
  8. Copy some text to the clipboard.
  9. If speech is still not heard, click the red square in the Chrome Reader popup, and try one more time.

Before proceeding, it is critical for me to remind you that "with great power comes great responsibility" by means of a very special and important public service announcement.

British accents make everything sound more credible

The Android TTS engine is generally so lifelike that it can be used to illustrate the interesting effect where virtually any spoken English sounds more believable when spoken with a British accent.

Take the following examples (enhanced even further with statistics and references to other elements of UK culture):

Compare either of these to the American equivalent, and it's quite clear who wins and who loses the credibility contest.

The awe-inspiring power of the British accent can make even ridiculous statements sound compelling.

The Digital Sector
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Are you prepared to enter it?


A few more comparisons to hammer home how effective this can be[1]:

Any debate between friends can now have the stakes increased by a considerable margin by simply copying-and-pasting some political news text from the BBC website and then tweaking it to suit the specific disagreement in question.

A virtual (speech) tour of London

Using the same technique, I've been able to recreate some of the highlights of my visit to one of the most fantastic cities in the world in 2013.

Audio File
File Size Author
British Android — Complete Audio Set 16 MiB Ben Lincoln
All of the audio files referenced above (as well as additional, alternate versions), in a single zip file
1. The only reason all of the American TTS examples use a female voice is that there is no male US English speech pack for Android at present.
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