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Speech to Text: Free Options for Mac, PC & More

Updated on November 12, 2015
Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan is a certified teacher who has taught in the UK and in the US. He now works as a Digital Learning Consultant.

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The Many Uses of Speech to Text

There are lots of reasons why you might need speech to text software, but did you know that it is likely already built-in to the device you are using? Apple, Microsoft and Google include this functionality in many of their devices as a form of assistive technology for users with physical disabilities. However, it is being used in many other ways too.

People are using it on mobile devices because it is faster than typing with the on-screen keyboard. On laptops and desktop computers, others are using it to augment their slow typing skills. Young children are using it at school to express their thoughts and ideas without worrying about the challenges of spelling words they have yet to learn. So, without further ado, here is a rundown of how to use speech to text for free on a variety of your favorite devices.

Windows Speech Recognition

Windows 7, 8 and 10 all have free speech to text software that is built-in to the operating system. You can find it by searching for "Windows Speech Recognition" in the search menu of your version of Windows. It can be used with a headset, a USB mic or with the microphone that is built-in to your computer.

If you have never used it before, there is a short setup procedure that you need to follow in order to optimize performance with your voice and the hardware on your machine.If you want to, you can further fine-tune the accuracy of Speech Recognition by going to the Control Panel, clicking on Ease of Access, and then Speech Recognition. Here you will find an option to Train your computer to better understand you. Click this to optimize speech to text for your voice.

Once that is taken care of, you can start using speech to text to dictate your spoken words in Notepad, Word and other applications. However, you can also control your computer with commands like "Open Microsoft Word," "Scroll Up/Down," or "Double-Click the Recycle Bin," and so forth. Microsoft has a list of common speech recognition commands to help you navigate your PC with your voice.

How to Use Speech to Text Free in Windows

Dictation & Speech to Text on a Mac

If you use a Mac, you can also take advantage of the built-in speech to text software that Apple includes with all of its computers. You can enable it by going to System Preferences and clicking on Dictation. If your Mac has a built-in microphone, you can use that, otherwise, Dictation works well with USB microphones too. For a better experience, check the box next to Use Enhanced Dictation. This allows you to use speech to text on your Mac without an internet connection, and will ensure the text appears in real-time as you speak.

Once you have everything set the way you want it, open an app like Notes or Pages to test it out. Double tap the Function (Fn) key to begin and then start talking to your Mac. You should see a small microphone appear on the side of the screen. This signifies that the Dictation feature is active and listening to your voice. When you are done talking, click Done or press Enter on your keyboard.

The Mac Dictation feature does not allow you to open apps and control navigation in the same way that Speech Recognition does on Windows, but you can use commands like "comma," "period," and "exclamation mark" to punctuate your sentences. If you are using OS X Yosemite, (a free upgrade for Mac users), you can enable advanced commands to take advantage of even more speech to text phrases.

Video: How to Use Dictation on a Mac

Free Speech to Text on iPads & iPhones

Speech to text is also available on iPhones and iPads and has been for some time. It was first introduced on the iPhone 4s, and later appeared on the iPad (3rd generation) and iPad Mini 2. Today, all new iPhones and iPads have this feature enabled by default. To use speech to text on your iOS device, open an app like Notes or Mail and tap on the screen to make the keyboard appear. Next, tap the microphone that is located to the left of the space bar and begin talking. You will notice the words appear on the screen as you talk. Phrases like "new line," or "new paragraph" can be used, as can a variety of punctuation commands.

Tip: If you have an older iOS device that does not support dictation features, you can use the free Dragon Dictation app or PaperPort Notes to get speech to text functionality on your device.

How to Use Speech to Text on the iPad

Try Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Speech to Text on Mac or PC

Voice Typing in Google Docs

Recently, Google announced the addition of Voice Typing in Google Docs. This feature is available in the Chrome browser for Mac or PC, and on Chromebooks. To enable Voice Typing, open the Google Doc you want to use speech to text with and click Tools, and then Voice Typing. A microphone will appear in the top left-hand corner of your screen. Click the microphone start and stop dictation, or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + S on a PC, or Cmd + Shift + S on a Mac. As with other systems, some punctuation is supported along with commands like "New line" and "New paragraph."

How to Enable Voice Typing in Google Docs

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How to Use Speech to Text on Chromebooks

If you are using a Chromebook and need speech to text options outside of Google Docs, there are a number of free options in the Chrome Web Store that will work well for that. Each one operates in a slightly different way, but they all use the microphone that is built-in to your Chromebook to help recognize your speech and turn it in to text. Some of the better free options include:

As with everything else in the Chrome Web Store, these apps and extensions also work just fine in a Chrome browser. This is particularly useful if you are moving between a Chromebook and other devices.

Speechnotes for Chrome and Chomebooks

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Summary

The technology used for tech to speech recognition has come a long way in recent years. It's still not 100% accurate, but the free options that are listed here can be a great addition for those that really need this kind of adaptation. With practice, and a decent microphone, these free text to speech apps are all you need to give your fingers a break from the keyboard.

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    • Jonathan Wylie profile imageAUTHOR

      Jonathan Wylie 

      2 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Thanks Ron. I think there are a lot of people who don't know it is there. I will be interested to hear if you think it is as good as Dragon or not. Let me know! :)

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I have been using Win7 for several years now, and never knew it had Windows Speech Recognition built in. In my ignorance I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking without giving the Win7 product a try. I will now. Thanks for some very useful info.

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