This month is the 20th anniversary of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the first speech to text software I and a lot of early adopters used to frustrate themselves. Even for 20 years ago it was an incredibly difficult to use, resource intensive software that led to far more annoyance than convenience. A lot has changed and improved in the past 20 years, though, and speech to text is finally usable and available on most devices.
Using the same tech as Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, Dictate is a free speech-to-text add-in that is integrated into your Office 365 apps like Outlook, Word and PowerPoint. Once installed, Dictation occupies a tool bar at the top of an Office application which makes starting and stopping dictation very convenient. See it in action here:
I regularly use speech to text on my phone, so I installed Dictate on my desktop and gave it a spin. What immediately struck me was that there are many more commands for punctuation, correction and formatting that your typical cell phone’s. Unlike a speech to text application like Siri, I’m able to make a complete document in a word processor without touching the keyboard. Dictate also allows you to delete words when you make a mistake.
It’s also a translator!
Dictate offers real-time translation for over 60 languages to and from English with surprising consistency. The translation itself is roughly as good as Google Translate, but the speed at which it translates speech is eye-opening. I spent more time than I should have watching Japanese game shows on YouTube and looking to Dictate for translation. Considering most of what was being said was being shouted very rapidly, it did an exceptional job producing coherent text.
Full dictation functionality in also available in Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish with more languages on the way.
You’re still going to feel weird using it
The technological barriers to productively using speech to text for work have all been overcome. At this point I’m more comfortable and faster using Dictate than actually dictating speech to an assistant. However, if you’re talking at your computer, you’re still going to get looks from others in the office. Like a Bluetooth headset it’s very convenient, you just prefer not to be seen while using it.
That said, if you can overcome the awkwardness of using this tool, and don’t have a strong accent, it really does speed up word processing tasks and writing emails. This post was composed using dictate, and I plan on using it again in the future. Side-eyed looks from my coworkers be damned!