How to Use Dictation on an iPhone or iPad Without Frustration
Dictation has been included in iOS for the iPad and iPhone for many years already. You can write emails, fill in text fields, and even write articles by talking. It uses Siri for speech recognition, which automatically converts your speech to text as you talk. You do need to be online for it to work, with WiFi or cellular data.
The virtual keyboard has a key with a microphone icon on it as shown in the picture above. When you press that key you can speak and it will type for you.
Siri Speech Recognition is similar to Dragon Naturally Speaking. It even uses the same spoken commands, such as "period" – "comma" – "new paragraph" – and so on.
The Human Brain Handles Typing Very Differently Than Speaking
I discovered a strange thing about typing by speaking. I found it difficult to think and speak at first. It’s weird, because I do it all the time talking with friends and customers. I was wondering why it was so different when talking to Siri to do the typing.
What I discovered was an interesting phenomenon about how the human brain handles both typing and speaking very differently. When I first tried writing an article by speaking, something got in the way. My brain was wired differently for verbal creative work.
Maybe creativity comes through my fingers, not from the mouth. I checked and determined that’s not right. I asked some friends if they thought I spoke creatively. Either they didn’t understand the question, or they got what I was asking and knew the answer. Either way, I received a confirmation on my oral creativity.
So here I am, speaking to write this article. When I first started using Siri to type for me, it took some getting used to. After several attempts I got the hang of it. It just took some rewiring of my brain cells to talk to a device that's not human.
Another issue that came up was that I discovered I had a lot of trouble focusing and expressing my thoughts. That's funny, because I never have trouble writing when I type, or speaking to people.
What I came to realize is that our brain works differently when we speak compared to when we type or write.
I discovered that it's very difficult to write an article simply by speaking.
You would think it's a lot easier because you don't have to bother typing. You just let the device do the typing for you. But that's not so.
In my experience, even though Siri allows me to speak, I still had trouble writing by speaking. Therefore I only use the option sparingly.
I had to edit this article after speaking it. But I did discover a trick that makes it easier. That is to speak-type, as I call it.
It's Important to Proofread Your Speech-To-Text
You've got to be careful with letting Siri type for you. Once in a while she may type some silly things by misunderstanding what you said. I learned that I need to double check it by reading it back.
For example, I recently was posting to the forum and I wanted to praise someone for something she had said. I spoke the post and said:
"Your idea is even better than mine."
But Siri typed:
"Your right ear is even better than mine."
If I would not have caught that, nobody would've understood what I was trying to say.
Siri usually gets the spelling right since she seems to know what word is meant by the context it's used in. But not always.
I decided to try an experiment with speaking the following sentence:
"How do you recognize speech?"
Siri thought I was saying:
"How do you wreck a nice beach?"
She usually does a lot better than that, unless you ask her how to recognize speech. Then she gets all awkward and fumbled over the question. Maybe she wants to keep it a secret.
Double checking SIri's typing is just as important as checking our own typing for errors. The problem is that sometimes when I read back what Siri typed, it is such a derangement of what was said that you can't always remember what you originally were thinking when you said it. I ran into that a lot.
The solution is to dictate in small segments and proofread each segment before continuing.
It Feels Weird at First to Type by Speaking
The Difference Between Dictation and Typing
I realized that when I speak to friends I have no problem talking. So why did I have trouble writing articles by dictation?
A friend of mine explained this phenomenon very well. He said, "There are different pathways through the brain to control the fingers and to control speaking with our mouth."
I found a solution. I have to imagine that the iPhone is a person. By doing this I forced my brain to use the same pathways that are being used when speaking to people in public or to friends over the phone.
That method works, but then another problem became obvious.
I make a lot of mistakes when I talk. People usually don't catch it when they listen, mainly because the human brain corrects errors automatically. Have you ever had the experience where you catch yourself saying something incorrectly, and as soon as you say it again your listener responds with the comment, "Oh, I knew what you meant."
That's either because they really did know what you meant and didn't need to correct you, or they didn't hear what you said wrong because their brain made them hear what you really meant.
The point I'm making is that when we speak we make mistakes but when we type, we somehow pay more attention to what we're saying.
So what do I do about it now that I'm writing an article by speaking? Well, I pause a lot and review each new paragraph step-by-step. And then I either switch to the keyboard and type in some corrections or simply speak a new paragraph.
I had to type that last part because when I say “new paragraph” Siri takes me literally and skips a blank line to start a new paragraph. That's something you need to be aware of. If you want to use commands literally, you need to type them. If you say "the stone age period was long ago." – Siri will replace "period" with a "." and you'll lose the word.
A workaround is to say the command twice, but I found that only works with a few commands and is not consistently correct.
If you knew what I go through with “command confusion”, you would laugh. That’s a term I came up with. Keywords that happen to be commands can confuse the issue.
For example, when I want to use the word "period" in a sentence rather than placing a period at the end of the sentence, I need to say "period" twice, as I mentioned earlier.
Siri will recognize that as meaning that I want the word "period". The same goes for all other marks, such as a comma, quote, etc. Sometimes it’s easier just to switch to the keyboard and type.
The problem is that there is no consistency with what commands can be double spoken. Saying "new paragraph" twice will only drop down four spaces instead of including the words "new paragraph" followed by two spaces.
I already mentioned about saying "new paragraph" when you want to start a new paragraph. Siri will space down two spaces. If you say "new line" then it will only space down one space.
Some Editing Is Required
If you're wondering if I had any trouble with the last paragraph, trying to get Siri to type things that are commands, you bet I did. I had to go back and do some old-fashioned editing on the keyboard to get all that correctly typed.
With all this nonsense going on that we need to think about while we're speaking, it kind of distracts us from the main thought we're trying to express.
Nevertheless, when you have some thoughts that you want to express fast, it's a useful tool to get it typed quickly. I will continue to use it – at least for writing short notes and quick replies to emails.
© 2012 Glenn Stok