here are a lot of complaints that speech
recognition—the ability to dictate to your computer—is
geeky technology. But I think the very opposite is true. How geeky is
it to hack on a keyboard to make your computer understand what you are
trying to say? Really: think about it. It makes so much sense to speak
to your computer, dictate text, and navigate through programs. The only
geeky part about it is that we're not used to it.
Andrew Levine agrees. The March 2012 edition of the ATA
Chronicle carries his very informed article on speech recognition,
with a number of approaches that I think are great. For example, he
says that, like fingers, vocal chords can get tired, too, so he
"normally translate[s] for about 45 minutes dictating, then switch[es]
to keyboard typing for 15 minutes to give [his] voice a break."
That's a great approach. I do it a little differently, though I am even
less of a "purist." I use voice recognition only when I think I need to
speed things up a little, when I have a text that is well suited, or
when my fingers just don't work the way I want them to (which
unfortunately happens more often than I care to admit). But even when I
dictate, I don't unplug my keyboard or simply refuse to use it. Some
things are just more practical to do
on the keyboard, and this is particularly true if you need to switch
between languages, an obviously common occurrence for translators. Dragon
NaturallySpeaking, the only reasonable third-party program on the
market for the PC, supports at least the native language and English in
the Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, French, and Japanese editions;
however, unloading one language and re-loading the other takes at least
a couple of minutes.
Some things are just more practical
to do on the keyboard, and this is particularly true if you need to
switch between languages.
User profiles for different languages and input devices
The same loading and unloading needs to be done for
different kinds of microphones you might be using, each of which
requires a different user profile. If you do have access to a Bluetooth
microphone, you will want to use that; otherwise, a USB mic will do as
well. I actually even use an analog microphone quite frequently and do
rather well with it.
So, which texts are well suited—or better, which
texts are not well suited—for speech recognition? The answer to
this depends partly on your particular translation subject. In my work,
I avoid using voice recognition in texts that contain a lot of proper
names and/or loan words. This does not mean that you can't teach the
program to recognize the proper names and loan words, but it's one of
those judgment things: If you want to use speech recognition (or
anything else for that matter) to become more effective, you'd better
make sure that you truly are gaining efficiency. If you have to spend
an hour to train it to recognize a bunch of new terms before
translating for an hour and a half on a job that would otherwise have
taken you only two hours, that seems like wasted time to me. Plus,
while I enjoy translating, I can think of better things to do than
training speech recognition. On the other hand, if I can expect those
proper names and loan words to occur again in future projects, I may
just as well spend the time to train.
My first rule for success with speech recognition
software will probably have the "purists" shaking their heads in agony.
After having used the software for some time, I know some of the weak
spots of my speech engine (or my pronunciation). Rather than using the
"correct" function again and again, I prefer to type those problem
terms even while dictating the rest.
My next rule: Take some time to get used to not
"thinking with your fingers." Instead, try to pre-formulate longer
segments and then speak them coherently for better results.
This goes right along with the next kind of texts that
are not well suited for speech recognition because it's hard to say
them naturally: texts with a lot of formatting. Depending on what kind
of translation environment tool you're working with and how formatting
is handled by the tool, it may be easier to use the keyboard shortcuts
for those that you are used to. If there is really a LOT of formatting,
it may be easier to just type the whole thing.
Now, technically, there is no formatting function or
other fancy maneuver that your speech recognition can't do—that
is, if you have the right
version. The Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium version
(formerly Preferred) comes with all basic formatting in
environments likeMS Word or its own editor, DragonPad.
When you use a translation environment tool that makes you work in an
interface other than Word, you will have a hard time doing
everything with voice commands unless you have the Professional
edition, in which you can easily write macros with virtually unlimited
Macro Editor in Dragon's Professional edition
The problem is that while the Premium version
has a relatively modest price tag, the Professional version
does not. Once you have the Professional version, you can
either stay there and pay premium prices for upgrades because you are
interested in the slightly better recognition that typically comes with
each new version, or you can go the cheap route, downgrading at some
point but then losing all your macros. That was a problem and the
eventual solution I had with Dragon.
Windows 7 also contains an internal voice
recognition program for Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and
Speech Recognition dialog in Windows 7
(select Speech Recognition in the Control Panel and then Advanced
This feature has suffered some very public criticism,
but I was rather impressed with its accuracy and user-friendliness in a
couple of unscientific tests that I ran. I dictated the same paragraphs
in both programs and had only a slightly worse recognition in Windows
than in Dragon (96% vs. 98%).
So, unless you are an awesome typist and refuse to
change that geeky habit of exclusively using your fingers to enter
text, speech recognition is a great alternative to "typing," even
before carpal tunnel syndrome hits.
We're told that a good relationship can't be built with
one party doing all the talking, and that bond with your computer is no
exception. When you get tired of dictating, you can have your computer
talk to you.
Text-to-Speech is not a technology that makes sense for
everyone. But for those who translate readable texts (as opposed to
those who translate cryptic error messages) and need a second set of
(virtual) eyes, this is a great way to catch errors that you tend to
overlook—especially when you edit your own translations with
automatically limited error-catching abilities.
If you are already using Dragon NaturallySpeaking
for voice recognition, you're set—it contains a decent
text-to-speech engine as well and obviously one that will speak your
language (that you usually dictate in.)
Options for Dragon's text-to-speech engine
If you just want to use the features that Windows
offers, you can give those a shot as well. Outside of MS Office
I'm not particularly impressed with it, but within the latest versions
of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint it works well.
To make access more user-friendly, you should probably add the Speak
button to the Quick Access Toolbar (in Office 2010
To do this, you can select the little dropdown arrow to
the right of the toolbar and select More Commands. Then select All
Commands under Choose commands from and add the Speak
command to the Quick Access Toolbar field.
Now you can have whole documents read to you, or you
can highlight specific parts by clicking the Speak button. And
if you need to change the
speed of "Microsoft Anna" (sorry, I didn't come up with that name, but
she will be replaced with David, Hazel and Zira in Windows 8 ), you can do that in the Windows Speech
Text to Speech dialog in Windows 7
(select Speech Recognition in the Control Panel and then Text to
If you need to have your texts read to you outside Office,
or if you don't like Anna for English or Lili for
Chinese—the only languages that are available—you can use
one of the many third-party applications. As mentioned above, Dragon
NaturallySpeaking is a good option. A quick Internet search will
reveal the many other programs that are available for your language and
As you wade through the voices vying for your attention
today, don't forget to make the most of that voice connection to your
primary tool through voice recognition and text-to-speech technology.
It's a compelling one.