While flawless voice recognition may be the Holy Grail when it comes to this sort of software, whether it is actually achievable is another matter altogether. But what’s important in this instance is that Dragon Naturally Speaking continues to make incremental improvements with each release.
I’ve trialed two previous versions of Dragon: Naturally Speaking, and I must commend in particular the effort that has been put into the initial ‘training’ section of this latest edition’s set-up process. Previously you were presented with a ‘wall of text’ passage from a book to read so that the program can learn your speaking style and how you pronounce certain words. Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 has now adopted a karaoke-style interface, presenting only a couple of lines at a time that move on only once you’ve completed reading that text. It’s a great way of giving the user a sense of progress and reassurance, as opposed to reading a lengthy passage and hoping for the best.
To get the most out of Dragon Naturally Speaking, you will need to dictate (and make corrections when the program gets it wrong) fairly often. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary slog; it will result in an increasingly more accurate performance over time, but it can be fairly agonising in the early stages.
It pays to spend about an hour every now and then reading a passage (preferably something that you’ve written or that features terms and expressions that you use frequently), and then correcting Dragon’s missteps. I was impressed to note that Naturally Speaking 11 got up to speed a lot faster than previous versions (where I got better results if I impersonated an American). You will have to get into the habit of ‘speaking’ your punctuation (saying “comma”, “exclamation mark” and “full stop” etc). But once you learn the more advanced commands, you can virtually drive your entire computer interface by voice alone.
PROS: When it’s all calibrated, it works impressively well. Perfect for those who take lengthy dictation or who have accessibility issues with PCs.
CONS: There is a mandatory calibration period where Dragon learns the way in which you speak, what words you say and how you say them – and it can be trying. Not only this, but committing the many voice commands to memory will take
VERDICT: Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 is the most impressive implementation of voice-recognition software I’ve seen to date, and it really does take away much of the hassle of previous editions. If you could make use of the technology in your workplace, Dragon is the way to go.