Windows has long offered a screen reader and text-to-speech feature called Narrator. This tool can read web pages, text documents, and other files aloud, as well as speak every action you take in Windows. It’s designed for the visually impaired, but can be used by anyone.
Narrator acts the same in Windows 10 and 11, but the settings and configuration screens differ between the two versions of Windows. Let’s see how this works in both Windows 11 and 10.
Set Up Narrator in Windows 10
To use Narrator, you must first enable the feature. In Windows 10, go to Settings > Ease of Access > Narrator to view the Narrator pane. Turn on the Narrator button.
A message may appear explaining how the Narrator keyboard layout has been updated to more closely match your experience with other screen readers. Check the box next to “Don’t show again” if you don’t want to see this message each time Narrator starts. Click OK to dispense with the message and keep Narrator running. Otherwise, click the button for Turn off Narrator to view and explore the other options and settings before you actually use Narrator.
With the default options, Narrator can be difficult to use as it sometimes fails to read the screen elements you wish to hear, or it reads the wrong part of the screen. That’s why it’s important to review all the settings beforehand so you can finely tune Narrator to work the way you want.
Change Narrator Settings in Windows 10
First, let’s look at the different Narrator settings available as you scroll down the screen.
Open Narrator Home opens a “Welcome to Narrator” screen where you can learn how to use and customize the tool and find out about new features.
View the complete guide to Narrator online takes you to a web page that offers complete information on using Narrator with a table of contents and a description of new features.
Start-Up Options in Windows 10
Scroll down further to see the different startup options for Narrator.
Allow the shortcut key to start Narrator. If this box is checked, you can use the keystroke Win key+Ctrl+Enter to turn Narrator on and off.
Start Narrator after sign-in for me. This starts Narrator after you sign into Windows with your account.
Show Narrator Home when Narrator starts. This automatically takes you to the “Welcome to Narrator” screen when the tool starts.
Minimize Narrator Home to the system tray. This minimizes the “Welcome to Narrator” screen to the taskbar.
Personalize Narrator’s Voice in Windows 10
You can change the Narrator’s voice a number of different ways. From the Narrator settings screen, use the drop-down menu to choose which voice you want to use for Narrator.
Change the speed, pitch, and volume of your chosen voice through the sliders on the settings screen. Certain keystrokes can also be used to modify these elements.
Additional voices can be added to Windows, including those for other languages. Navigate to Settings > Time & Language > Language. Click the Add more voices link. On the next screen, click Add voices. Choose the language you want and click Add.
If you have more than one audio source for Windows, click the drop-down box for Select where you hear Narrator’s voice and choose the active source.
Change What You Hear in Windows 10
By default, Narrator will speak aloud any buttons, screens, or windows you hover over or select, as well as any text on those screens. If you want to change this level, click the drop-down menu next to Change the level of detail Narrator provides about text and controls. For example, to hear only text and not controls narrated, select the option for Text only or Some text details.
Below the drop-down menu are additional options that will tell Narrator to emphasize formatted text, read aloud by character, use punctuation to determine pauses, and speak advanced details, such as help text, buttons, and other controls.
The second drop-down menu in this section allows you to set the level of context that Narrator provides for buttons and other controls. You may want to first try the highest option—Full context of old and new controls—and then lower the level if you wish to hear less context.
You can then set when Narrator provides details about buttons, either before or after you activate them. Next, you can try the other three options for this section: Hear hints on how to interact with buttons and other controls. Hear Narrator announce why an action can’t be performed. Hear audio cues when you perform actions.
Under the Change what you hear when typing section, you can determine whether you want to hear letters, numbers, words, function keys, navigation keys, toggle keys, and modifier keys as you type them.
Additional Settings to Change in Windows 10
Under the Choose keyboard settings section, you can select your keyboard layout and pick the Narrator modified key. Click the link for Create your own keyboard commands to select from a variety of commands to use with Narrator.
In the Use Narrator cursor section, you can determine how and where the Narrator cursor works and how you can control it with your mouse or keyboard. Under the Use Braille section, you can install and set up braille software to use a braille display with Windows.
Under the Sync my settings section, click the Use current settings before sign-in button to save any changes you made to Narrator settings so they automatically apply to anyone else who uses Windows on this computer.
Set Up Narrator in Windows 11
To set up Narrator in Windows 11, go to Settings > Accessibility > Narrator. Turn on the Narrator button. If you see the message explaining how the Narrator keyboard layout has been updated, check the box for Don’t show again. Click OK to close the message or click the button for Turn off Narrator to view and explore the other options.
Change Narrator Settings in Windows 11
Keep the Keyboard shortcut box checked so you can use it to start and stop Narrator.
Click the option for Narrator Home and keep the box checked if you want to see Narrator Home each time you start the feature.
Click the option for Complete guide to Narrator to learn more about the feature.
Select Narrator’s Voice in Windows 11
Select the voice you wish to use for the Narrator. You can add more voices if they’re available. Set the speed, pitch, volume, and default audio source.
Customize Verbosity in Windows 11
In the Verbosity section, set the controls to determine if Narrator should speak only text, all text details, or certain control details. You can also set Narrator to speak when you type punctuation marks and keyboard keys as well as text.
Mouse and Keyboard Settings in Windows 11
In the Mouse and keyboard section, choose how to trigger Narrator with a specific key as well as with touch keyboards and your mouse. Here, you can also select a specific keyboard layout.
Narrator Cursor in Windows 11
In the Narrator cursor section, choose how and where the Narrator cursor and text cursor appear and behave. In the Braille section, you can set up a braille reader and software to work with Narrator.
Manage Data and Services in Windows 11
In the Manage data and services section, you can opt to sync your Narrator settings with other users of the computer and send diagnostic data to Microsoft.
How to Use Narrator
Now, you can use Narrator to read aloud text in a document or email, in an application, on the web, or on the screen. Turn on the functionality when inside a web page, document, or file. Move your cursor to the area of text you want Narrator to start reading. Press Windows key + Ctrl + Enter, and Narrator starts reading the text on the page to you. Stop Narrator from speaking by pressing the same shortcut. If you run into any difficulties with Narrator, return to the Settings screen to enable or disable specific options so you can better work with the feature.