Here are my notes during a search for tools that help me read an English word and loop it up in dictionaries on the Linux command line. I need them to learn a word at my fingertip.

If you just care about the solution, please jump to the end of the post.

Reading words with Text-To-Speech (TTS)

All options except for gTTS work offline.


festival is a general multi-lingual speech synthesis system.

To read a sentence, use echo 'ten simple rules of doing a postdoc in pharmaceutical companies.' | festival --tts. The default voice sounds like a robot, but understandable.


Similar as festival, espeak can synthesize speeches. To read a word, use espeak -x -s 120 "word".


TTS is developed by Mozilla for text-to-speech conversion using pre-trained models.

Install with pip install TTS.

To read a sentence, use tts --text "Ten simple rules of doing a postdoc in pharmaceutical companies." --out_path sandbox/test.wav; play !$. The voices sound natural to me.

While reading a word helps to remember it, text-to-speech can help proofreading long texts (e.g. manuscripts), because it can reveal missing or redundant words as well as mistakes.

On my mint/ubuntu machine as Virtual box, running the command complains [W NNPACK.cpp:79] Could not initialize NNPACK! Reason: Unsupported hardware.. However, it does not cause any problem of synthesizing the text.

gTTS (online)

gTTS is s python library and CLI tool to interface with Google Translate’s text-to-speech API. It can be used to read a single word.

Install gTTS with pip install gTTS.

To read a word slowly and play the mp3 file on the fly, use gtts-cli --slow 'rogue' | play -t mp3 -.

Looking up words

I use the dict program, which is both fast and comprehensive.

sudo apt-get install dict-gcide
sudo apt-get install dict-wn
sudo apt-get install dict-devil
## English Thesaurus database
sudo apt-get install dict-moby-thesaurus

My solution

To use the functionality even when I am cut off from internet, I use the combination of Mozilla/TTS and dict. I am inspired by a solution on StackOverflow (user: precise) to add the following lines to my ~/.bashrc file.

function define {
  ## requirement: install mozilla/tts with `pip install TTS`
  tts --text "$1" --out_path "$tmpfile" &>/dev/null
  play "$tmpfile" &>/dev/null
  rm "$tmpfile"
  dict "$1" | less

Now, try define function. And for fun, try define funcition, which includes a common typo of mine.