Here are some tips for using free voice recognition software

Q: Are there any free speech recognition programs for my computer worth trying?

A: The quest to make computers understand human speech began in the early 1950’s when Bell Labs designed a system that could only recognize digits from a single person’s voice.

Today’s speech recognition technology is far from perfect, but if you’re willing to train yourself to pronounce yourself better and learn the commands, it can be very useful.

voice commandsOne of the easiest options to use allows you to use your voice to control various functions that would normally require a mouse or keyboard to access.

For example, if speech recognition is turned on in Windows, you can say “Start” to open the Start menu, and then open an application by name that appears in the menu.

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You can use your voice to scroll up or down, left or right, select or delete a word, or ask “What can I say?”.

The steps to enable speech recognition in Windows 10 or 11 are posted online and the list of commands is also on the site.

Mac users running macOS Catalina or later can turn on “Voice Control” for similar features by following the prompts and saying “Show commands” or “Show me what I can say” to bring up a list.

speech dictationIf you want to use your voice to create documents, you must teach yourself to speak in a way that the computer can understand. If you speak too fast or don’t pronounce your words correctly, it can be a lot more work than typing the document in the first place.

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Remember that 90% accuracy means that every 10th Word will be wrong, so if you end up spending a lot of time correcting the wrong words, it will be less efficient.

Both Windows and Mac computers can recognize when you’ve clicked in a document, text box, or email message and automatically begin converting your spoken words to text.

One of the keys to improved performance is a good microphone, designed to focus on your voice and ignore background noise. Voice commands are possible with a laptop’s built-in microphone, but if you spend a lot of time dictating, a good microphone is important.

Luckily, headset or desktop mics that do a better job than your built-in mic aren’t very expensive.

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Office 365If you’re a regular user of Office 365 for Windows or macOS, you can use dictation in the various apps as long as you have an internet connection.

You can dictate anywhere text can be entered, not just for word processing.

otterAnother interesting free technology I used on my smartphone a while ago is an app called Otter, which is also available for your computer via a web browser.

This implementation of speech recognition is an excellent tool when two people are involved (e.g. to interview someone) as it separates the different speakers and is incredibly accurate.

The free version allows for up to 300 minutes of recording and everything is saved in a transcript for easy transfer to other programs such as a word processor.