Dragon NaturallySpeaking

I’m not sure whether it’s because of too many years spent tapping away at the keyboard on my notebook, but my left arm has been causing me a lot of pain recently – so much so that despite being on pain-killing medication I have found it almost impossible to type at times.

This has not been good for my productivity, or for my health either, and since I’m too busy to take a long vacation to rest my arm fully, I’ve been trying to figure out how to continue working without putting too much pressure on it.

The best solution I’ve come up with has been to install a speech recognition software program called Dragon NaturallySpeaking on my notebook so that instead of typing out my e-mails and documents I can simply sit back in an ergonomically correct position and dictate them to my new virtual secretary.

That’s the theory anyway. But how does it perform in practice? I’ve been using the program for around two weeks now; here are my thoughts on it so far:

a.) Price and Registration: At US$200 for the premium edition, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is not exactly cheap, so I found it pretty irritating when I opened the box and saw the crappy headphones that had been bundled with it. These must have cost all of five dollars or less to make and were very uncomfortable to wear.

Installing the software did nothing to improve my mood because of its complicated registration procedures and nagging warnings that the program would stop working after five minutes if you didn’t register it. After spending $200 on the program, I have to say that I found these messages to be unnecessary at best. Talk about a lousy out of the box experience!

b.) Installation: Fortunately, installing the software was pretty smooth once the registration had been completed and I was pleased to learn that I could use the inbuilt microphone and speakers in my notebook instead of the crappy headset. Once it had been installed, the program ran a very decent tutorial to get me started, which was very helpful. In addition, it also scanned my e-mail folders to build up profile on why writing patterns and commonly used names and vocabulary.

c.) Usability: With the tutorial completed, I immediately started using the program for writing Word documents and e-mail messages. Setting this up was very easy; all I needed to do was make sure that the program was operating in the background and turn the microphone on whenever I wanted to start writing – and to turn the microphone off whenever I didn’t need it.

d.) Accuracy: When I started using the program, input accuracy was only around 50%, resulting in me having to spend a lot of time correcting all the errors in the text. Now, a couple of weeks after purchasing it, accuracy is up to around 70% as the program has become more used to my speech patterns and pronunciation and I have taught myself to speak much more clearly. Still, there are times when it continues to make the same old irritating mistakes, such as spelling the name wrong at the beginning of an email and failing to recognize the difference between similar sounding words such as “all” and “or”.

I doubt whether the program will ever be 100% perfect, but I’m hoping that it will eventually be able to achieve an accuracy rate of 80% when I’m using it.

e.) Usage: One of the problems with speech recognition software is that you can’t use it everywhere because you don’t want other people to hear what you are writing. It wouldn’t be a good idea to dictate confidential emails in my open-plan office or a busy airport lounge for example.

Fortunately, I can get around this problem in most cases because I generally process all my e-mails at home before and after work (though I’m not sure what my kids think when they hear their father busy talking to himself in his room) and if necessary I can find an empty meeting room while I’m in the office.

Overall I’m quite happy with the software so far. It may not be perfectly accurate, but I find it just as fast as typing for writing documents – if not faster – even taking into account the time spent correcting all the errors.  More importantly, using the program has definitely reduced the strain on my left arm by allowing me to rest it and helped me improve my posture when I am working at my computer.

So even when my arm recovers, I’m sure I’m going to continue using it for the ergonomic benefits alone. And as an added benefit, perhaps all the increased attention it is forcing me to make on dictating more clearly will also help me improve my presentations and public speaking.

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