Dragon Dictate for the Mac:
—Mostly Accurate with some wacky typos on the side
Posted on 02 September 2011
Well, it’s been a little more than a week and I’ve been using Dragon Dictate for content creation quite a bit. I was really excited when I very 1st started using the software because I had these fantasies of being able to crank out pages and pages and pages of dictation without a lot of extra effort. While my productivity and text output has improved, there have been a couple of unforeseen (usually funny) side effects to dictating versus keyboarding and there were a couple of challenges in learning the software as well. So the software isn’t really magical, but if you have realistic expectations I think you’ll be really happy with what it can do.
The overall performance and accuracy of the dictation software is really quite amazing! There’s no question that this software is doing some incredible work and I’m often shocked by its ability to pick the right word when various synonyms are available. The speech recognition engine is at the point where it actually is worthwhile to use dictation as an input method. And honestly, that’s the opposite of what I experienced years ago when I 1st tried speech recognition software. It was cool, but it took far too much time to get the thing to work right. That’s not the case anymore.
I really expected there to be a bunch of YouTube videos for tips and tricks on how to use this software. As it turns out there are a handful of pretty good overview videos, mostly from Nuance (the software company that makes Dragon Dictate) and one really good 5 or 6 minute training video. But as it turns out there is a cottage industry of Dragon Dictate software training which is primarily from Nuance themselves and one other company. I don’t remember the name of the other company, I think it’s “Watch and Learn,” but they charge $50 for a full class on how to use Dragon Dictate. At the same time, Nuance sells a training DVD video, though I’m not sure what the price is for that.
Ultimately though, what I found was that I could learn most everything I needed to as long as I read each of the various cheat sheets I could find on Nuance’s site and in the box. Plus, I read through a quick start guide and the user manual which I found online at the Nuance website. There’s also a blog from Nuance but it’s loaded with all kinds of information about the PC version of the software and only a little about the Mac version. So I took all the information I found, made some handwritten notes to myself, and then I developed my own little cheat sheet. I have one in each office, at home and at work. These help me to remember the most critical commands I need to use as I dictate to the software. Things like showing and hiding various windows, various editing commands, the not-so-straightforward method of training the software to learn new words specific to my industry, and the magical command that you need to use any time you need to manually change something using the keyboard.
So at one point in one of the manuals from Nuance I found something they call the “Golden Rule” which is, NEVER mix keyboard entry and dictation! Fact is, if you did everything including corrections via voice, it would absolutely waste far too much time. So you must be able to mix keyboard and voice entry in order to remain productive. That’s why this cool little command “cache document” is so important. The way that this recognition software works is that it must know about the existence of every single character in the entire document. If you add something manually, really bizarre mistakes happen almost immediately, and it’s especially hard to undo giant mistakes that you didn’t see happen. So using the “cache” command after each time you do something with the keyboard, the software re-memorizes the entire document and mistakes are kept to a minimum.
And while were talking about learning resources for this software, Nuance does host a member forum which seems to have a sufficient enough following that you can find topics and get answers in a reasonable amount of time.
There are several different modes and various commands that you need to know exist. Since this isn’t a how-to lesson, I’m not going into all that detail here, but I do want you to know that if you skip learning about the various command modes, you might find the cursor suddenly selecting some strange group of text, and then deleting the whole thing. And since it does all these changes so incredibly fast, you have no idea what the program just found and erased for you.
Also, you should be prepared for some really interesting typos. That’s because so many words and phrases sound so similar to the software. The other day I was dictating an e-mail to someone and I mentioned how, “I enjoyed your presentation and I was inspired by both your personal and professional missions.” Unfortunately, the software interpreted the word “both” as “oath.” The problem wasn’t that the typo was so dramatic, it just made me look kind of goofy since it wasn’t the kind of typo that happens as the result of a keyboard mistake.
It’s also kind of interesting how the software does a very good job in my Mac e-mail program, inside of the native notepad program (which is practically identical to Text Edit), in the Text Edit program itself, and a couple of other programs. But I don’t use Safari as my primary web browser, I use Firefox. And dictating into a WordPress window inside of Firefox is a mind numbingly slow process! Instead I have to dictate into a separate note and then copy and paste later. It’s not quite as bad with the Pages app from Apple (which I greatly prefer over Microsoft Word) but I still don’t want to do a lot of dictating into Pages.
Finally discovering the hidden mysteries behind vocabulary training has been a little bit of a challenge, but I think I’m making good progress there. I figured out how to teach the software about individual words and I’ve also discovered how to add those individual words one at a time into the vocabulary set. However, I have yet to figure out how to force the software to spell out words instead of using digits for numbers like 1 and 2. As well, any time I want to use the word “first,” the doggone software insists on typing “1st” (look at the lead paragraph of this review). I think I’m going to spend a little time in the Nuance forums to see if I can figure that one out. Oh, and the “spell mode” would certainly let me override the incorrectly typed numbers, but it’s far faster to just go ahead and type the correction manually and say, “cache document.” Alas… Star Trek level accuracy is still a fantasy.
So overall I’m really happy with how the software has helped me. I need to continue to use it regularly so that I get more comfortable with the set of available commands and the workflow. And I also think that once I start to become more comfortable with the software, I’ll be able to dictate in a more conversational fashion. Right now there are really long pauses that I take in between dictating one phrase to the next. That’s because I’m really focused hard on making sure that I come up with the right words. While my speech sounds somewhat conversational while dictating, it still has these big pauses in between. It is absolutely unlike having a regular conversation. Again, I think this will improve as I use the software more and more.
Do I recommend Dragon Dictate by Nuance for the Mac? Absolutely! Is it magical software that will solve all of your typing problems and help you be more productive? Probably not. But it will make most people who are not already really fast touch typist on the keyboard, to crank out more content.
UPDATE: By request, I have zipped my cheat sheet and will email it to anyone who asks via comment here on this article. (You don’t have to publicly post your email address in the comment. I usually get it as a regular part of your comment within my blog management software.)
UPDATE II: Alan’s comment below made me think of one other thing. DON’T BUY THE DOWNLOAD VERSION that doesn’t have a mic. That’s because the software is very picky about microphones and if your awesome, studio-quality mic that works great for everything else, doesn’t work well with Dragon, you’ve got to go buy one listed on the Nuance site. Just get the retail pack that comes with it.