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Cortana’s voice commands have been stealing all the headlines recently. She can do everything from taking notes to reminding you about upcoming events with nothing more than a verbal instruction.
But all the focus on Cortana has shifted attention away from another excellent Windows 10 feature: Speech Recognition.
In this article, I’m going to explain what the Speech Recognition feature can do, how to set it up, how to train it, and how to use it.
What Can Speech Recognition Do?
Don’t let the simple name fool you. Speech Recognition is a powerful tool that’s improved a lot since Microsoft released the original version on the Vista operating system.
So, what can it do?
If used correctly it will save you a lot of time and render your mouse — and even your keyboard — useless for general day-to-day activities.
The two most appealing features are its speech to text feature (i.e. dictating Word documents without ever needing to touch your keyboard) and its voice control capacity (i.e. controlling all Windows native menus and apps using nothing more than the sound of your voice). It also has a personal dictionary and macro support.
Note: Speech Recognition is only available in English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
How to Set Up Speech Recognition
At the time of writing, the Speech Recognition option is not available in the new Settings app. You’ll have to use the Control Panel. In the future, Microsoft will probably move it into the Ease of Access menu along with features such as High Contrast, Narrator, and Magnifier.
To begin, right-click on Start and search for Control Panel > Speech Recognition. Alternatively, use the search function within the Settings app (Start > Settings).
Firstly, you need to set up your microphone. Microsoft recommends using a headset rather than your PC’s built-in one. It will reduce distortion and interference.
Click Set Up Microphone and choose which type of microphone you want to use.
Next, it will prompt you to read a sentence. You’ll notice a colored bar — you need to try and speak at a volume that keeps the microphone’s reception in the green area. Hit Next when you’ve finished.
That’s the end of the initial setup, but there is a lot more to do before you’re ready to use Speech Recognition across your whole system.
Training the Speech Recognition Software
You can teach Windows to understand your voice. Strictly, this isn’t a necessary step, but if you’re planning to use Speech Recognition for dictating documents, it’ll help to improve accuracy and reduce the number of errors.
Head back to Control Panel > Speech Recognition and click Train Your Computer to Understand You Better.
Windows will get you to read some text, one line at a time. It’ll automatically move onto the next line when it has understood you. The app shows your progress in a green bar at the bottom of the window.
Not only does this help Windows learn the sound of your voice, but it also gives you a preliminary introduction to some of the key commands you’ll need later on.
When you’ve finished the first session, you’ll may continue with more training. The more sessions you do, the more powerful the feature will become.
Note: The software is always learning. The more you use it in any context, the better it will get.
As you might expect, the list of voice commands is extensive. You need to be able to operate your mouse, choose menu items, format text, edit text, use special characters, and a lot more.
You’ll need to practice before you can ditch your mouse and keyboard entirely. Luckily, Microsoft offers a handy printable card for you to keep next to you in the early days. To find it, go to Control Panel > Speech Recognition > Open the Speech Reference Card or visit the support site.
Here is a small selection of the commands you’ll need most frequently when you’re first starting out:
- Turn on Speech Recognition: Start listening.
- Turn off Speech Recognition: Stop listening.
- Show a list of available commands within an app: What can I say?.
- Select an item or icon: Click [Start / File Name / App Name].
- Select a word in a document: Select [word].
- Capitalize the first letter of a word: Caps [word].
- Put the cursor before a specific word: Go to [word].
- Show the mousegrid: Mousegrid.
Turn On Speech Recognition
Now you’ve trained the software and understand the basic commands, it’s time to activate the feature.
Go to Control Panel > Speech Recognition > Start Speech Recognition.
The app might prompt you to read another sentence. Windows will ask you whether you want to let it review your documents and emails to improve accuracy. Some users might balk at the privacy implications, but giving it access will speed up the learning process.
It will also ask you whether you want to use your voice or the keyboard to launch the app and if you want to run the software at system start-up. Choose the options that fit your usage pattern.
The software will load. If it’s worked, you see a small icon at the top of your screen indicating that Windows is listening for your commands.
The best app for practicing is Microsoft Word. Try reading a news item or song lyrics and correct any errors as you go.
Do You Use Speech Recognition?
Following the simple steps in this article should have you up and running with Speech Recognition.
As I’ve alluded to several times, the key to making it a productivity powerhouse is practice. It’s a technique that takes time for both you and your computer to learn. Don’t get disheartened in the first few days. If you stick with it for a couple of weeks, you’ll soon be wondering how you ever lived without it.
Do you use Speech Recognition on your Windows 10 computer? How long did it take for you to become a master?
Let me know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.
Image Credit: Syda Productions via Shutterstock.com