Thoughts on Using Speech Recognition Software On a Mac

12/07/2011

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.