You’re hearing a lot about
speech writing in this election year; what I’d like to
talk about is speak writing, which is basically what I’m
doing to write this article. I’m dictating these words to
speech-recognition software rather than typing on my keyboard.
Speech-recognition software has been
around for many years. If you can speak and compose your thoughts
clearly as you go, then speech-recognition software might work well
for you. My typing leaves much to be desired, so I’ve tried out
several products of this sort in the past.
Many earlier programs were very slow
and difficult to work with, and they had a limited vocabulary. But
the latest incarnations are much improved and are compatible with
many Microsoft Office products as well as e-mail and Internet
Worth the Effort
First, you do have to teach the
software to learn your voice and style of speaking and writing, but
this doesn’t take long. My software probably learned about my
speaking and writing patterns much more quickly than I will learn
about all of its features.
Some packages actually ask for
permission to review your e-mail and documents to glean your
Following are a few speech-recognition
Recognition (Microsoft; www.microsoft.com)
is a new feature in Windows Vista. It’s included in the operating
system, so you might need only to add a microphone or a headset to
be talking instead of typing. Besides English (U.S. and U.K.
versions), Speech Recognition is available in Chinese, French,
German and Japanese.
NaturallySpeaking (Nuance Software; www.nuance.com/naturallyspeaking) is the software that
I’m using now. It seems to be quickly picking up my speech habits
after just a few days. The latest release of Dragon
NaturallySpeaking (version 9) is considered by many to be one of
the best on the market. The Preferred version has the ability to
work with Excel, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word and Outlook, and
it also is compatible with digital audio recorders, meaning you can
record your voice notes and later transcribe your recordings. The
Preferred version costs less than $200; the Standard version, which
works with AOL Instant Messenger, Internet Explorer, Outlook
Express, Word and WordPerfect, has a smaller feature set but is
available for less than $100.
IBM ViaVoice (also
sold by Nuance Software; www.nuance.com/viavoice) is an ideal option if
you have an older computer. It is the only program that will run on
aging, less powerful PCs; however, it is not as accurate as some of
the other products, nor is it as easy to correct mistakes. The
latest version, known as Release 10, is available in several
editions, ranging in cost from $30 to $200, depending on your
requirements. There also is a version available for Mac OS X.
(MacSpeech Inc.; www.macspeech.com) was awarded Best of Show at
MacWorld 2008 and is powered by Dragon NaturallySpeaking technology
from Nuance. Dictate recognizes all of the applications on your Mac
hard drive, so you can activate one simply by saying “open”
followed by the name of the application. Users of the company’s
previous product, iListen, can upgrade to Dictate for less than
$100. The new software was scheduled to begin shipping in
mid-February, priced at less than $200.
A Promising Start
Voice-recognition software can improve
efficiency, especially when it comes to repetitive data entries to
tables and databases. I “spoke” about 75 percent of this article
using it. I did have to retype some passages and make corrections,
but that will improve over time.
Bob Walters,based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions
and developer of MeetingTrak Software.