Here’s What You Can Do With Mac Voice Control

Akshata Shanbhag 04-11-2016

So you want to sling orders at your computer and have it obey you, or maybe, you want your computer to read aloud to you. Congratulations! You’re alive in the right era to make both those things happen, with a high degree of accuracy. Today we’ll get into the specifics of converting speech to text and vice versa on a Mac.


Here’s what you can do with voice control on your Mac.

Dictate Text With Mac Dictation

Your Mac’s in-built dictation feature is handy for writing notes, emails, tweets, and so on. You can even write a whole article using voice input Can You Write A Whole Article Using Voice Dictation on the Mac? Well I Just Did (And This Is It) What you're reading right now is an example of Apple's dictation and speech program in action. It may be useful for short passages, but can you write a whole article with it? Read More .

To enable dictation, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation and select the On radio button next to Dictation:. Look below this option for the Use Enhanced Dictation checkbox. You’ll want to select this checkbox to ensure that you can dictate text even when you’re offline. Now you’re ready to dictate text!

enable dictation

You can enter the dictation mode from any app by hitting the function key twice, in quick succession. Of course, any text you dictate will go into a void of silence if the active app doesn’t support text input.


testing dictation

You might find it annoying that the words you dictate don’t appear on the screen one by one. They appear in short snippets when you pause. This leaves you no way of knowing if there’s a typo until after you have finished dictating each snippet.

If you want to configure a custom shortcut to activate the dictation mode or if you want to switch to a different language, head back to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation. Hit the About Dictation and Privacy button there if you want to read about how Apple processes the text you dictate and the information it contains.

Save Apple’s support page for Dictation to look up keywords for entering punctuation and formatting text.


Now, how about using voice to type queries into Spotlight? Hit Cmd + Spacebar to trigger Spotlight, followed by the function key twice to trigger voice input, and tell Spotlight what you want to search for.

using voice with spotlight

Entering text using dictation is not for everyone. You might find, as I do, that no amount of mental gymnastics can get words to flow off your tongue when you’re dictating. Don’t let that stop you from using the Dictation feature for voice commands, which we’ll explore next.

Order Your Mac About With Voice Commands

“Move left. Start dictation. Uppercase that. Bring coffee.”


Okay, that last command won’t work, but the others will get your Mac to obey you. That’s if you have enabled the in-built dictation feature like we discussed in the section above. Once you do, you can navigate your Mac and perform various common actions with voice commands.

To see the list of default commands you can use, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Dictation and click on the Dictation Commands… button. Click on the “plus” icon below the commands list to start setting up a voice command of your own.

default voice commands

Check Your Inbox, Set Reminders, Roll Dice With Siri

Siri came to macOS with the Sierra release What's New in macOS Sierra? The New Features Coming to Your Mac OS X is dead, long live macOS. Read More . If you chose not to enable Siri while installing or upgrading to Sierra, go to System Preferences > Siri to enable Apple’s voice control personal assistant.


With Siri active, you can find files, catch up on tweets, calculate distances, send emails and more with your voice. Check out Siri’s seemingly endless capabilities The Master List of Every Siri Command and Question Siri can do a lot for you, but did you know she could do this much? Here's an exhaustive list of commands Siri will take. Read More for yourself.

If you have used Siri on an iOS device, you might prefer to dive right in and figure out how Siri works on your Mac as you go along. If you haven’t used Siri before, read our guide for Siri on Mac How to Use Siri on Your Mac: A Quick Start Guide Apple’s intelligent personal assistant Siri is now on the Mac, and controlling your computer with your voice has never been easier. Read More for a quick starter lesson.

ask siri

For now, Siri’s Compose feature works only in Siri’s own interface, which is not a convenient setup when you want to dictate long snippets of text. You’ll have to fall back on Mac’s Dictation feature in this case, or on an app like DragonDictate, which we’ll take a look at next.

Dictate, Edit, and Transcribe Text With Dragon for Mac

If you never want to type text going forward, invest in Nuance’s Dragon for Mac. It’s also known as DragonDictate. Yes, starting at $300, the software is expensive, but it’s said to deliver impressive results to match.

With DragonDictate, you can dictate text as well as control your Mac with voice commands. Before you pay up for it though, experiment with custom voice commands using Automator Create Powerful Custom Mac Voice Commands With Yosemite & Automator Here's a Yosemite feature you might have missed: Apple has made it easier to create custom voice commands using Automator. Read More . That might turn out to be the better solution for you. It’s user friendly and pocket friendly!

Former MakeUseOf writer Bakari was a DragonDictate power user. Read Bakari’s comparative review of Mac Dictation and DragonDictate How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apple's Dictation vs DragonDictate For a long time if you wanted or needed to use a speech-to-text dictation program on your Mac, your only choices were MacSpeech Dictate (now defunct) and Nuance's DragonDictate. But with the release of Mountain... Read More  before you spring for the latter.

To be honest, I found the names of the different versions of Nuance’s speech recognition software confusing. I’ll leave it to you to make sense of them.

Read Text Out Loud With Mac Speech and Dictater

To have your Mac read a text snippet aloud for you Your Mac Can Read Any Text To You, Here’s How Whether you want to hear an article while you do something else or want another voice to read your writing back to you for proofreading purposes, OS X comes with everything you need. Read More , select that bit of text and click on Edit > Speech > Start Speaking. To stop the reading session, click on Edit > Speech > Stop Speaking.

If you want to switch to a different system voice or tweak the speaking rate, you can do both from System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech. There, you’ll also be able to set up a shortcut to trigger text to speech conversion.

The problem with your Mac’s speech function is that you can only trigger it or stop it — you can’t pause, fast forward, or rewind text during a read-aloud session. The third-party app Dictater solves this problem for you by adding speech controls Dictater Adds Controls to Your Mac's Text To Speech Function Apple's built-in text to speech engine is a feature without an interface. Dictater is a simple Mac program that fixes that. Read More to allow you to skip text and pause reading.

Once you install Dictater, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services > Text and select the checkbox for Dictate.

Now you can trigger the speech function by selecting text first and then the Dictate option from the context menu or right-click menu. This brings up Dictater’s controls interface, which gives you buttons for pausing, playing, and skipping text. There’s even a teleprompter function hidden behind the “preview” or “eye” icon in the controls.

dictater in action

Notice the Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track option in the context menu when you have text selected. That triggers a conversion process where you’ll end up with an audio file in iTunes, which you can send to your iPhone for a read-aloud session on the go. For a handful of decent ideas on what you can use this feature for, check out this archived Reddit post.

If you can’t see the menu option for adding a spoken track, look under Services in the context menu. Still can’t see the option? Ensure that you have enabled it under System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Services > Text.

add to itunes as spoken track

Want your Mac to read out menu items, button text, and so on? You’ll need to enable the VoiceOver utility from System Preferences > Accessibility > VoiceOver.

If Your Mac Doesn’t Understand What You Dictate

Mac Dictation is bad at deciphering my Indian accent, and I’m bad at imitating an American one. But the Dictation feature on iOS is impressive. It understands almost everything I say! I don’t even need to slow down or pronounce words any differently.

To take advantage of the dictation accuracy on iOS, I have set up a note-taking app (Letterspace) that keeps notes in sync on my Mac and my iPod Touch via the cloud. Anything I dictate in the iOS version of the app using voice dictation shows up in the Mac version of the app in a few seconds. Feel free to try this with Apple Notes or any other Mac-and-iOS-based, cloud-synced note-taking app.

If you use an Android device, you could use Voice Typing How Voice Typing Is the New Best Feature of Google Docs Voice recognition has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Earlier this week, Google finally introduced voice typing into Google Docs. But is it any good? Let's find out! Read More on it to dictate notes, and then format them using Google Docs on your Mac.

Speak Out, Listen Up

Text to speech conversion on your Mac is straightforward, and gets better with the Dictater app we recommended. Speech to text conversion can be tricky business though. Don’t let the initial hiccups put you off it. Accurate dictation does get easier with time and practice. Stay aware of the limitations of the software you’re using and find workarounds for them. And make enunciation a habit when you’re dictating. Otherwise, you’ll end up with results like this:

find my files

Between Apple’s constantly improving voice control features, Dragon’s advanced voice recognition software, and Google’s accurate Voice Typing, most Mac users can set up a decent workflow. But a few more third-party options would have been nice to have.

Have you ever used your voice to control your Mac? How did that turn out? Are there any good voice-based apps you find worth recommending? Share them with us!

Related topics: macOS Sierra, Siri, Speech Recognition, Speech to Text, Voice Commands.

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