Use the speech recognition software you already have

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Are you someone that would rather talk than type?  Personally, I would rather type out words on the keyboard because then I can make sure that the message that is transmitted is exactly what I want to say.  The downside of typing is that it usually takes longer since most people can speak much faster than they type.  But if you prefer to control your computer by your voice, you can do that.  And the software that allows that is probably already in your computer.

speech recognition

 

I remember many years ago I purchased a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking (company site).  This was way back in the mid-90s, and the idea of controlling your computer with your voice was still a fairly new one.  I remember that the error rate for the program was pretty high.  In fact, it was high enough that I didn’t continue using it because it wasn’t worth the trouble of having to go back through every document and fix all the mistakes.  It has improved a lot since then, and it’s still pretty much the standard for voice recognition software usage – IF you need to use a third-party program.

But before you go out and spend your money ($75 to $175) on that program, you should check out the speech recognition software that you probably already own – the one that is built into Windows.  It’s been included with the Windows operating system since Vista, so if you use Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 you already have it to try out.  In some cases, you don’t need anything more than the features that come with the Windows version.

To do this, technically all you need is a microphone connected to your computer.  But ideally you will want a headset (headphones and a microphone).

Here’s how to use Windows Speech Recognition:

(these instructions and screenshots are based on Windows 7, but Windows Vista and 8 are similar)

1. Click the Start button and type (or in Windows 8, just start typing) “Speech Recognition” and you’ll see a link to click on with that name (actually you can just type the word “speech” and you’ll see it appear).  Click on it and you’ll get your first screen to start the setup process:

speech recognition setup

 

2. Then you are asked to choose which type of microphone you will be using:

speech recognition setup

 

3. You’ll get a few handy tips on how to use a microphone:

speech recognition setup

 

4. And now here’s your chance to finally speak into the microphone.  They want you to read a sentence so you can gauge if the microphone volume needs to be adjusted.  You should see the volume level fluctuate as you speak – your words should mostly be in the green area.  Yellow would be too quiet, and red would be too loud.

microphone setup

 

5. Microphone is all set

mic setup

 

6. If you want the program to learn your particular patterns of speech more quickly, you can have it review your Documents and your Email.  This is a good thing to do in order to improve the accuracy of the software, but some people might have concerns about a Microsoft product being able to read and review your documents.  Which is kind of ironic, since Microsoft Word was most likely what created those documents in the first place.  But you can skip this step if you want, and the program will still work.

speech recognition

 

7. Now you need to decide how you are going to activate the speech recognition software – manually or by voice.  In the Manual Activation mode, when you are using the software and you say “Stop Listening” the program actually turns off, and you have to actually run it again in order to use it.  In Voice Activation Mode, the “Stop Listening” command just puts the Speech Recognition program in a light sleep mode.  When you want to use it again, just say “Start listening” and it’s running again.

speech recognition

 

8. On this next screen, you will want to view the reference sheet and print it.  It’s a handy list of the common phrases that the software already understands.

speech recognition

 

9. Now you need to choose if you want to have the speech recognition software run all the time (each time you boot up) or if you just want to run it when you need it.

speech recognition

 

10. The next screen is another good thing to do, if you are planning to use this feature regularly.  Take the tutorial – it will give you the basics of how to control your computer with your voice.

speech recognition

 

11. Once you are done with the tutorial, you’re ready to just start using the Windows Speech Recognition as part of your regular daily computer use.  When the program is running, you will see the small window at the top of your screen, and it will say “Listening” if it is indeed listening for you to give it a command:

speech recognition

 

It’s up to you how extensively you want to use it.  If you want to, you can use it to completely control your computer for just about everything.  Or, you can just use it to dictate content into a Word document or an email.  For most people, talking is faster than typing.  It will take a little bit to get used to, but with practice you might find that you prefer it to typing.

There’s another tutorial here.  It is primarily based on the Windows 8 user interface, but there is a lot of similarity there so even if you use Windows 7 you should benefit from it.

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