Hands-off with Apple Dictation

Keith White
1 June, 2015
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Most of my Mac user friends are not aware that, if they’re running Mavericks or Yosemite, Apple has embedded a reasonably competent speech-to-text program in its system software – Apple Dictation. Here’s how to get it started.

In System Preferences, select the Dictation and Speech icon and turn Dictation on. Check the Enhanced Dictation option and wait while it downloads. This will use your own computer to do the recognition. If you don’t choose Enhanced Dictation, your speech will be sent to the Apple server system in short chunks for recognition. Not recommended.

Next step, select your language, in my case Australian English, and select a keyboard shortcut to toggle Dictation on and off. This brings up a microphone icon with an active volume level indicator. You can also use this icon to turn Dictation off when you’re done.

Next step, choose Accessibility in System Preferences, select Dictation Commands and be impressed by the range of selection, navigation, editing, formatting and general housekeeping commands that you can use. You can even add commands of your own if you’re running Yosemite, but I haven’t found a need to do that yet.

You’re then ready to go. Some folks say it works fine with the inbuilt microphone, but I have been a headset person ever since I started using speech to text software many years ago. With my football-mangled fingers and non-existent typing skills, this technology has been a godsend. I started with IBM ViaVoice in the early 2000s. When IBM discontinued Via Voice I switched to Dragon Dictate. I’ve been pretty happy with that and was only led to try the Apple system recently while I was waiting for Dragon to be installed on a Mac at a school I do some work for.

I’m now glad I did. For day-to-day stuff, particularly emails, Dictation probably works better for me than Dragon. It’s instantly accessible via the shortcut in any program that accepts text. There’s no waiting for a voice profile to load, as with Dragon. However, although it seems to put the text up more quickly, it doesn’t give a list of alternatives as Dragon does. And while Dictation does a pretty good job of transcribing my speech, I would have to say Dragon seems to be generally more accurate. For that reason I’ll probably stick with Dragon when I’m writing longer pieces.

The major problem I have with Dragon is due to my incurable habit of mousing around to make corrections. It’s well-documented that this is an absolute no-no in Dragon and nearly always ends up with a need to restart the software. This of course is not Dragon’s fault, but it’s just the way I like to work. Dictation seems far more forgiving and I can mouse around quickly to make corrections as I see fit. If you’re new to this technology, using the Apple freebie will also save you quite a bit of money.

Just for fun I downloaded German as a second language (from a list of over 30 options) from the Dictation window in System Preferences. I can also switch the commands to German in the Accessibility window. Now I can toggle between English and German in the microphone icon. So let’s see how we go. . .

Es hat diese Wörter ganz genau geschrieben. Merkwürdig! (it has written these words quite accurately. Remarkable!)

It pretty well got that first go, which is really merkwürdig. Especially considering it has been some years since I would have been considered a fluent German speaker.

Dictation is just another of those hidden delights that makes the Apple experience so enjoyable.

Und jetzt für heute ist das alles, meine lieben freunde. Auf wiedersehen!

One Comment

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  1. KIrk Fontaine says:

    Just checking my dictation application.

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