Thoughts on Using Speech Recognition Software On a Mac

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Way back in the late 1990s, I remember first trying speech recognition software. The first program I used was ViaVoice, by IBM. If my memory is correct, this was the first Mac program that allowed you to speak in phrases and sentences, as opposed to dictating each word one at a time. I used this software with Mac OS 9, probably on an LC 475, and the results were terrible. Given the speed of a computer like that, and the quality of speech recognition algorithms at the time, this was not surprising. While I did own a PC, which I needed for some of the work I did, I didn’t bother to buy Windows speech recognition software, the most popular of which at the time was called Dragon Dictate.

At that time, and in the following years, I did a lot of dictation. Working mostly as a freelance translator, I would dictate into a handheld dictaphone, and my wife would type and correct my translations at the same time. I would have loved to have been able to dictate directly into my Mac back then.

Over the years, I kept following the various speech recognition solutions offered for Mac. In the past few years, I have reviewed several of these programs for Macworld: my latest review of Dragon Dictate for Mac was in November of this year; my review of Dragon express, a “light” version of Dragon Dictate, appeared online today. And I recently wrote an overview of the different types of microphones available for speech recognition software.

I type relatively quickly, and using speech recognition software doesn’t so much save me time as make me more relaxed. As I write this article, I’m leaning back in my chair, my hands comfortably crossed on my stomach, and I’m dictating into a SpeechWare TableMike. This is a desktop microphone with an extendable boom which is, for me, the most comfortable microphone that I’ve used for speech recognition. First of all, I don’t need to wear anything on my head, and I don’t need any wires to connect me to my computer. The microphone sits on my desktop, I tilt the boom down in the direction of my mouth, and I can comfortably dictate with the microphone more than a foot away from me. This means I can easily choose to dictate anything at any time, without worrying about connecting a mic, positioning it correctly, or, if it’s wireless, turning it on and worrying about its battery.

Speech recognition software is not perfect. You will not get 100% recognition; there will be some mistakes, but the more you use this software the more it learns from the way you talk and the way you correct recognition errors. While speech recognition software isn’t for everyone—I wouldn’t want to talk all day, as it can be tiring—I find it very practical to be able to dictate some of the articles I write instead of typing. Unfortunately, speech recognition software is somewhat expensive (though the new Dragon Express, available from the Mac App Store, is only $50), and, while you can get good results with an average microphone, the best results require an investment. But if you write a lot, and you’d like to be more comfortable when you work, or if, simply, you don’t type very quickly, it’s worth looking into this software. Dragon Dictate for Mac is an excellent program that has made a lot of progress in the past couple of years, and one that can make a difference in the way you work.

15 replies
    • kirk says:

      Indeed. You have to re-read more carefully, because the speech-os are never misspelled, and always look like they might be correct.

      I fixed it. :-)

  1. David Attwood says:

    I was wondering if you have tried Siri for dictation and if so what you think of it. Like you I have tried many programs over many years and never really been satisfied. I am ever hopeful and have found Siri for memos, notes, reminders and look up info to be a real useful breakthrough for my needs.

    The other thing that has helped me is a tool that speeds up typing itself. The text expansion tool that I use is called yType and it saves me hours of typing each week. It can be downloaded free to try out here.

    • kirk says:

      No, I haven’t tried it. I don’t have an iPhone 4S (and have never had any iPhone, in fact). I can live without the cost of a contract for a smartphone.

    • Tom Geller says:

      For what it’s worth, I believe that Siri’s dictation function uses technology licensed from Nuance, Dragon’s maintainer.

      I just learned of the Dragon discount today, damn it. And I’ve been meaning to buy Dictate for Mac.

  2. Dave says:

    My practice purchased nearly a dozen copies of MacSpeech including several copies of MacSpeech Medical. We are still waiting for Nuance (who bought MacSpeech) for their 2.5 release of the Medical Dictate software. The current Medical version does NOT work on Lion. Lion was released many months ago. Nuance offers no details on when the release is expected. They provide CRAP support and if another option were available I would most certainly switch. Alas, they remain the only game in town. I find the lack of support from Nuance despicable.

    My first purchase of dictation software was PowerSecretary which included external acceleration hardware. I helped fund early development on dictation software by paying for every update and buying new options, including IBM’s, as they were released.

  3. Orjan Larsson says:

    Do even remember the times before. Quadra 840av and its cheaper sister had an AT&T/Lucent DSP (Digital Sound Processor) on them, and Apple introduced Plaintalk with speech recognition. Sure was fun to see how far Apple was at that time, in 1992/93.

    Sadly, Apple didn’t do much there, I never understood why it took them so long to make speech recognition better, but perhaps a lot of development was axed when mr Spindler took over from Sculley.

  4. Bakari says:

    Kirt, it is great to see another writer using Dragon Dictate as much as I do. It would also be great if there were a website to tips and tricks to devoted to using DD for writing purposes.

    Up until Dragon 2.5, I had a very difficult time using the program on my computer, but now I use it to write nearly all the first drafts of of my articles. My experience is similar to yours in that Dictate doesn’t always help me write articles any faster, but it alleviates the problems associated with manual typing.

    Hopefully one day, text-to-speech technology will be integrated within the Mac operating system.
    (Written using Dragon Dictate)

  5. Bakari says:

    Also, I am curious if your writing process is different for when you are writing using dictation? It is difficult for me to tell if having to think about what I’m going to say before I say/dictate it actually slows down my writing process. Whereby on the other hand, I can manually type and think almost at the same time—though I have to deal with manual typing problems which I don’t think I can ever improve. Just want to see if you share similar experiences.

    • kirk says:

      It’s definitely different, and I find that I spend more time thinking than when I type. When typing, the physical seems to lead the mental along. When dictating, I have the feeling that I can let my thinking take over more. In some ways, I get the feeling that typing means that I have to do two things at once – think and type. With dictating, I feel a bit freer. (If that makes any sense…)

      • Bakari says:

        Yes it does make sense. That’s reason why though it feels like dictating takes longer to get the words out, I’m often more precise in what I end up saying. Since I started using Dictate on a regular basis, I have a harder time now typing articles because the manual typing can at times slow me down. However, it largely depends on how rested I am and what it is that I’m typing. I don’t dictate everything, but it’s sure is useful to have it as a tool for getting writing done.

        Before I close, here’s a tip for those struggling to get started with Dragon Dictate. I got comfortable using the program by dictating daily journal entries for an entire month on In using that site and journal practice, I didn’t worry about content or correcting mistakes. I just practiced dictation.

  6. Michael Wenyon says:

    Is there a typo in this?: “but the more you use this software the more it learns from the way you talk in the way you correct your mistakes”

    I suggest that the word “in” should have been “and”. No?


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