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Friday, October 31, 2014

Trying Out Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition Software

Recently I've been trying out Dragon Naturally Speaking, the market leading speech recognition software.

I had two reasons for doing this. One is that I am not the world's best typist, and I thought perhaps this software might boost my productivity a bit.

The other reason is that many years of pounding a keyboard are starting to take a toll on my fingers. So there seemed good health reasons as well for giving this software a try.

So I bought a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 from Amazon. There is now a version 13 as well, but it costs almost three times as much. Looking at the description and the reviews, it appeared that version 12 would be perfectly adequate for my needs.

I have been using DNS 12 for about three weeks now, so I thought you might be interested to hear my initial impressions.

Installation of the software was reasonably straightforward, although certain aspects did not work and have never worked for me. For example, during the set-up you are asked if you are willing for your data to be uploaded anonymously to Dragon from time to time, so that they can use it to help improve the software's accuracy. Although I would have been perfectly happy to do this, the software simply refused to acknowledge my acceptance. In the end I simply had to cancel the request. There have been one or two incidents like this which indicate that the software can be a bit flaky on occasion.

The better news is that I have been generally impressed with the speech recognition. It certainly beats the IBM ViaVoice software that I tried out a few years ago.

The software does make mistakes, of course. However, it is usually quite easy to dictate corrections. For example, if it gets something wrong, you can say "Correct" followed by the word or phrase in question. DNS will then highlight this and suggest a list of possible alternatives. If one of these is correct you can just say "Choose 1" (for example) and the first alternative in the list will then be substituted.

The software also improves as it gets used to your voice, and you can add words that you use regularly to its vocabulary. Another nice feature is that you can set it to analyze your emails and documents for words and phrases you use regularly. Again, this should improve overall accuracy.

Finally, there are various training exercises you can do. These typically involve reading out chapters from a variety of books. It all helps, I guess.

One thing that I have found a bit frustrating is that the software seems rather partial to greengrocer's apostrophes. Frequently when I dictate a plural noun, DNS decides what I really want is a possessive. Correcting this is not as straightforward as it ought to be, as the plural version is seldom offered in the list of possible alternatives.

Another thing which has disappointed me is that while DNS 12 works fine in Microsoft Word, you can't dictate directly into many online applications and websites. In such cases you have to dictate into a stand-alone dictation box, and then transfer this to your browser.

Overall, nonetheless, I am reasonably impressed with Dragon Naturally Speaking 12. I find it works best with longer writing projects that don't involve too much in the way of complex formatting or unusual characters. It could be a good choice for novelists and popular non-fiction book writers, I'd have thought.

From my own perspective, I think the benefits from a productivity angle will be marginal. A lot of my work involves the insertion of HTML and other formatting codes, for example, for which DNS isn't best suited. Neither is it really ideal for posting short messages on social media.

On the other hand, the software is undoubtedly reducing the wear and tear on my fingers, and I am feeling the benefit from that. So I shall definitely be persevering with it!

If you have tried Dragon Naturally Speaking or any other speech recognition software, I should be very interested to hear your views. Any tips for a new user will be much appreciated as well! Please post your comments below as usual.

P.S. This blog post was (mostly) dictated using Dragon Naturally Speaking.

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