How to Use Apple's Siri for Dictation With an iPhone or iPad
The iOS on the iPad and iPhone includes Speech-to-Text capability that you can use for dictation. Siri recognizes your speech and types it for you. You can use Siri to write emails, fill in text fields, and even write articles.
Siri automatically converts your speech to text as you talk. You do need an Internet connection for it to work, with Wi-Fi or cellular data.
The virtual keyboard has a key with a microphone icon on it, as shown below. When you press it, Siri will type whatever you say. That key will only appear on the keyboard if Siri is available.
Siri's Speech Recognition is similar to Dragon Naturally Speaking. It even uses the same speech commands, such as "period" — "comma" — "new paragraph" — and so on.
The Difference Between Speaking and Typing
I discovered a strange phenomenon when using Siri to type for me. I found it difficult to think of creative thoughts while dictating. It’s weird because I do it all the time while talking with people. I was wondering why it's different when talking to Siri.
What I discovered is that our brain works differently when we speak, compared to when we type or write. There are different neurological pathways to control our fingers and to control our mouth when speaking.
Speaking to people face-to-face or over the phone is no problem. However, typing seems to be more natural when trying to develop creative content. We have the opportunity to think of the best way to express our thoughts while typing.
When I first started using Siri for dictation, it took some time for me to get used to the process. After several attempts, I got the hang of it. I guess it just took some rewiring of my brain cells that occurs with any mental exercise.
I discovered that it's challenging to write an article by merely 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 the case.
In my experience, even though Siri types for me, I still had trouble creating well-written content by speaking. I had to edit this article after dictating it, but I did discover a trick that makes it easier—as I'll explain.
How to Dictate to Siri
I found a solution to the problem with the lack of creativity when dictating. I have to imagine that the iPhone is a person.
By doing that, I force my brain to use the same pathways used when speaking to people in public—or with friends over the phone.
That method works, but then another problem occurs.
We sometimes make mistakes when we 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 find yourself saying something incorrectly, and as soon as you correct your statement, your listener responds with, "Oh, I knew what you meant."
That's because they knew 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 sometimes say things incorrectly. However, we somehow pay more attention to what we say when we're typing.
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 one-by-one. Then I either go back to the keyboard to type the corrections or carefully speak a new paragraph.
You wouldn't have known it, but I had to pause and type that last part because when I spoke “new paragraph,” Siri took me literally and skipped two lines down.
That is something you need to be aware of when dictating. 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 end up with "The stone age. Was long ago."
A workaround is to say the command twice, but I found that it only works with a few commands and doesn't work consistently.
How to Proofread Transcribed Speech
Occasionally Siri may type some silly things by misunderstanding what I said. For example, once when I was posting in a forum, and I wanted to praise someone for something she had said, I spoke:
"Your idea is better than mine."
But Siri typed:
"Your right ear is better than mine."
Siri usually gets the spelling right since she seems to know what word is meant by the overall context. But not always.
I tried an experiment with speaking the following sentence:
"How do you recognize speech?"
Siri thought I was saying:
"How do you wreck a nice beach?"
As you can see, we need to double-check everything by reading it back. Checking Siri's typing for errors is as important as checking our own typing. The problem is that sometimes when I read what Siri typed, it is such a jumble of what I said that I couldn't always remember what I originally was thinking when I said it!
The solution is to dictate in small segments and proofread each segment before continuing.
How to Handle Confusion With Commands
Keywords that happen to be commands can confuse the issue and create some very silly transcriptions. I call that Command Confusion.
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 punctuation marks, such as commas and quotes. Sometimes it’s easier to switch to the keyboard and type.
As I mentioned, saying "new paragraph" will make Siri skip two lines. If you say "new line," then it will only space down once.
There is no consistency with which commands can be double spoken. Saying "new paragraph" twice will make Siri leave two blank lines instead of typing "new paragraph" in the text. But saying "period" twice will make Siri type the word "period" in the text.
Some Editing Is Always 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 do a lot of 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 dictating, it distracts us from the original thought we were trying to express.
Nevertheless, when you have some thoughts that you want to get into written form quickly, it's a useful tool to use. I will continue to use it—at least for writing short notes and short replies to emails. I'll leave writing long articles to my fingers and the keyboard.
Questions & Answers
Can you correct the errors made during dictation without using a keyboard?
You can't fix it with voice commands. Siri highlights text that might not have been transcribed correctly. You need to use the keyboard after finishing your dictation to correct any of the highlighted text that came out wrong or any other errors you find.Helpful 2
When using Siri for speech to text, can you listen to the recording as well as seeing the text of the recording?
There is no recording. Siri types the text of your speech. It does not record your voice. See my article for details.
If you want an audio recording, then you need to use an app for that. Do a search in the App Store for recording apps. I recommend “Voice Memos,” which is a free app I use myself.Helpful 20
When Siri takes dictation, where does the text appear?
The text appears in the same place where you’d be typing it yourself. The virtual keyboard appears whenever you are in a text field in an app that requires typing something. Remember that you press the mic button on the keyboard to dictate.Helpful 4
Siri changes the spelling of the name Kala to Kayla. How do I correct that?
Siri's automatic spelling correction is frustrating sometimes. I found that when I correct it after it's changed, Siri eventually leaves it alone. You might have to correct it two or three times before Siri finally stops trying to change it.
How do I get Siri to delete?
Siri does not have a command to delete text. However, she will underline content that is questionable. Anything she is not sure she understood will be underlined. So when you’re done dictating, look over the text and correct anything that’s wrong. That process helps her learn your speech, and her recognition of your way of talking improves over time.
© 2012 Glenn Stok