How to Use Apple's Siri for Dictation With an iPhone or iPad

Updated on March 30, 2018
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Glenn Stok is skilled at researching and evaluating all kinds of products and has a knack for clearly explaining their features.

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.

Press the Microphone key on the virtual keyboard and it types what you say.
Press the Microphone key on the virtual keyboard and it types what you say. | Source

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


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      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Larry Wall - Despite what you said, speech recognition is not perfect. Even with perfect pronunciation, the iPad seems to have a mind of it's own. I have to be very careful and check that what was typed is what I said. Sometimes it changes words to something that may have sounded like what I said, but completely different. Sometimes it's so different that it would have been embarrassing if I hadn't caught it.

      • profile image

        Larry Wall 3 years ago

        Just browsing your hubs and this caught my attention. I have a speech impairment, where I do not pronounce all sounds clearly, thus leaving the impression with some that I am not all there. I have tried several devices, and none have worked. More importantly, I can type faster than I can talk, so I will stick with the keyboard. For some people who are unable to type, the devices you describe are invaluable. As a former news reporter, I pretty much learned to type the same way I thought. That does not work in all cases. I have no other point to make other than it was an interesting hub.

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Izettl, you gave me an idea for another hub. A comparison of dictating software versus recording into a tape recorder or MP3 player. Recording into a player is almost the same as speaking to another person because you can just keep talking as your thoughts come to your head. But when you're using speech recognition you have to stop every few sentences for it to catch up. That kind of breaks the train of thought. And I've noticed that I say things differently when I use speech recognition on the iPad compared to when I'm simply typing. Come to think of it I realize that's what you said. So I guess we're in agreement. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        bankscottage, that was a very enlightening comment that you made. I don't think that transcriptionists will ever be replaced. Just as you explained in your comment, they can do things that computerized speech recognition cannot do. I always have to proofread what was typed and make corrections. The nice thing about Siri on the Apple iPad is that it underlines words that it didn't know for sure if it got right. I find it very interesting that it has that capability to know that there's a possibility of an error. When I click on an underlined word it gives me other possible words and one of them is usually the right one. I don't think that a doctor dictating patient records will want to put up with that. They probably just want to keep talking and let the transcriptionist be responsible for typing everything accurately.

        By the way I'm using my iPad right now and I spoke this answer to your comment. And yes I had to go back and correct a few words. But it got the hard ones right!

      • izettl profile image

        Laura Izett 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

        well you captivated me with this article so well done on your speak-writing. Almost as difficult as me typing this holding my 4 month old baby...not easy.

        I have to admit I haven't owned an ipad and had no idea they had that feature. I was about to buy a program (dragon) that does the same thing so this topic interests me. I have arthritis in my hands so this is a great investment for me. However, I have tried speaking into a small tape recorder to get thoughts and ideas out of my head and to write on later, but it is not the same at all. I write entirely different than I speak, but I will still consider something like this.

        Very useful hub!

      • bankscottage profile image

        bankscottage 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

        Glenn, Great Hub. Ever since sholland mentioned Dragon in a Hub of hers I have been thinking about this.

        I think a lot of this has to do with training. Inexperienced public speakers say, 'umm', or 'you know', etc. a lot. Polished speakers do not. Public speaking courses often tape or video students so they can hear and see what they sound and look like.

        Also, like Jim, I wonder how people that do a lot of dictation, such as doctors or executives, would do with this? They are used to thinking and speaking like you mention in your Hub. Although, their documents are usually transcribed not typed directly from spoken word (but this could be changing to direct transcription with voice recognition programs). I do think the transcriptionists smooth a lot of the dictations out. They convert the brain to mouth thought patterns to brain to finger patterns. I have dictated documents and when I listen to the recording, they sound goofy, but the typed documents seem good (thanks to a professional transcriptionist).

        Doctors also use templates for commonly dictated documents so the transcriptionist only has to recognize the words specific to that patient. Not sure where this would fit in to dictating a Hub.

        By the way, I typed this.

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Sholland10, you said it better than me. Our brains have more time to process when we type. Yeah, that's it! Nevertheless I am speaking this answer to your comment right now. I do find it useful for short segments of text. But I do have difficulty writing entire hubs by speaking. Thanks so much for your insightful comment and thanks for stopping by and for the votes.

      • sholland10 profile image

        Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

        Neither my iPhone or iPad are up-to-date with the Siri technology, but I do use Dragon on them. I think when we type, our brains have more time to process. I do love using Dragon for notes, though. I can speak them as soon as I think them. I am terrible about keeping a notepad with me. Dragon saves me from that.

        As soon as the technology recognizes pauses and tones, we will have it made. I have written one article with Dragon, and I loved it. It definitely makes you a better proofreader. :-)

        I love the hub and am jealous of your up-to-date technology. :-) Votes and shared!

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

        I occasionally write using my Dragon Naturally Speaking application., and have seen the things you mention. I have to be very mindful of what I am saying, and pauses between speaking sentences are common.

        One thing i found it incredibly useful for, is transcribing written work. I had many,many, many pages of childhood memories written by my husband in longhand on paper tablets. He wanted to have them typed-- and I am ,by no means, a touch typist. That's when I decided to get the Dragon software-- which made the process so much easier, by just reading and making some minor edits.

        I enjoyed reading about your experiences-- and I think speaking to your iPad would be easier then trying to type on the tiny keypad.