How to Use Apple's Siri for Dictation With an iPhone or iPad
Speech-to-text capability is included in iOS on the iPad and iPhone that can be used for dictation. It uses Siri to recognize your speech and type 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 that key you can speak and it will type for you. This 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 creatively while dictating. It’s weird, because I do it all the time talking with people. I was wondering why it's different when talking to Siri.
What I discovered was that our brain works differently when we speak compared to when we type or write. There are different pathways through the brain to control our fingers and to control our mouth when speaking.
Speaking to people, either 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's speech to text 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 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 the case.
In my experience, even though Siri allows me to speak, I still had trouble writing 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 I discussed above about the lack of creativity when dictating. I have to imagine that the iPhone is a person. By doing this I force 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 occurs.
We sometimes make 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 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 step-by-step. Then I either switch to the keyboard and type the corrections or carefully speak a new paragraph.
You wouldn't know 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.
This is 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 end up with "the stone age. Was long ago."
A workaround is to say the command twice, but I found that 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, I recently 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 context it's used in. 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 back what Siri typed, it is such a derangement 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 marks, such as a comma, quote, etc. Sometimes it’s easier just 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 what commands can be double spoken. Saying "new paragraph" twice will make Siri leave two blank lines instead of including the words "new paragraph" followed by a single blank line.
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 speaking, it 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. I'll leave writing long articles to my fingers and the keyboard.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Glenn Stok