I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really learned how to type all that well. Even though I find myself at the keyboard day after day and hour after hour, I’m still an advanced hunt and peck typist. I also don’t know anybody willing to take dictation for me. But now I have Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 from Nuance. I can just sit back in my chair and talk to my computer. Maybe I’ll even dictate the next great American novel. But until then, I’ll settle for dictating this review.
You can use NaturallySpeaking with virtually any Windows application. It comes with a spiffy high quality boom microphone headset. It has built-in commands which already know how to use Microsoft Outlook and Word, Google, among other applications. You may program your own shortcuts for your other applications. You can actually say ‘Search google for extraterrestrials’ and it opens your browser and does it! You can send an e-mail to your friends simply by saying, ‘New e-mail’. You can fill in the addressee, subject, and body of the email, and send it, all without ever touching the keyboard. You can dictate into virtually any application that you would normally type into. You can even use it to IM. But that may defeat the purpose….
So how does this magic all take place? After installing the application, you should spend a bit of time training it to recognize your voice. This is done by reading text from the setup program. Do not skip this step, even though you may be tempted. Understanding speech is actually a very difficult proposition. Even when you’re listening to your friends talk, you don’t really get all the words. Your brain is able to figure out which words you missed and fill in the blanks. Speech recognition uses a ‘grammar’ to understand what it is that you’re saying. This ‘grammar’ is a collection of words. It compares what you say to these words. You can add your own words and use specialty grammars, such as medical terms, available with the Pro Version. To further increase accuracy, just as your own brain, it uses the context of what you’re saying to try and figure out what the words are it may have missed. This is an extraordinarily complex feat. The accuracy with which NaturallySpeaking understands your voice improves the more you use it.
When you first start using NaturallySpeaking, it can be frustrating. Your natural tendency is to want it to be 100% correct no matter what you say. NaturallySpeaking has achieved the highest rate of accuracy in the industry, but that isn’t 100%, which is OK since neither are you. The trick is to speak a bit slower and more carefully than you may in conversation. There is an auto punctuate setting. I have yet to be able to speak so it knows where my periods and commas should be. The easier way for me is to explicitly tell NaturallySpeaking where the punctuation goes by saying ‘comma’ and ‘period’, as well as any other punctuation, as I dictate. You’ll still be dictating faster than most anyone else can possible type. In no time at all you’ll be emailing even people you don’t like because it’s so much fun.
I dictated this paragraph into my digital recorder and transcribed with NaturallySpeaking. My Olympus VN-4100PC is not on the fully approved list. You can just have your little digital recorder with you and record your most profound thoughts and bring them home to be transcribed.
It actually did a pretty good job even though my recorder wasn’t rated very high on the acceptable recorder list. I corrected the few errors after the last paragraph was transcribed. It wouldn’t have been fair to show the uncorrected version because it takes a lot more training for transcribing from a recorder to become more accurate. Voice recognition needs a lot of information to work, so the quality of the recording is very important. There is less information for the application to work with. Overall I think it did pretty well for so little training. They say if I get a good external microphone the recognition rate will go up significantly. As I said before, the more you use it, the better it gets.
With Dragon NaturallySpeaking you can write your papers in record speed. You may even not forget your train of thought that you ordinarily would’ve lost while slogging through typing on your computer keyboard. I wish I had something like this when I was in college. Of course, when I was in college William Gibson hadn’t yet coined the term ‘cyberspace’.