Dictation is a feature included in Mountain Lion which lets you talk to you Mac and have you speech transcribed into text.

Now you can have your words translated into text anywhere you can type on your Mac.


Enable and Setup Dictation

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Dictation Settings

Most Macs have a built-in microphone that can be used with dictation, all you really need to do is enable it. You can enable Dictation in Mountain Lion by navigating to System Preferences -> Dictation & Speech -> click the radio button that says “On”.

After switching it on, there are a few options available as to how you would like to dictation. By default, Dictation can be activated by pressing the “fn” key twice. If that doesn’t suit you then you can change the hotkey by clicking on the “Shortcut” menu and selecting one of the other available choices. If none of those keyboard shortcuts works for you then you can customize your own, just select “Customize”.

There are also quite a few languages that are supported by the built-in dictation feature. The included languages are: English (U.S., UK, and Australia), Canadian English, Canadian French, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Korean, and Italian.


How to Use Dictation

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Using Dictation

To use Dictation, open any application that has a text input area and click with your cursor in that text area. Press the shortcut key twice, and a small microphone icon will appear below the cursor. That’s all that is required to activate dictation.

Once the microphone icon is displayed you have 30 seconds to speak. After that the recording will automatically be swept off to the Apple servers, translated and then beamed back to your computer. Of course it may not take you 30 seconds to say what you have to say, so if you finish before the 30 second marker just either press the shortcut key again, or click the “Done” button below the microphone.

Dictation is smart, and gets even smarter the more you use it. Over time it learns your accent how you speak, this allows it to get better at transcribing your words. It isn’t just a basic speech to text feature either, it supports punctuation, basic text commands, it even know to insert a :-) when you say “smiley”.

For a full list of all the commands and well as some tips and tricks on using dictation read my other post: Exploring all the features of Dictation on a Mac


Final thought of Dictation

The first thing I want to talk about is the amount of data that gets sent to Apple through the dictation feature. As I stated earlier everything you say gets sent to the Apple servers to get translated. Here is a quote from the Apple site:

Your computer will also send Apple other information, such as your first name and nickname; and the names, nicknames, and relationship with you (for example, “my dad”) of your address book contacts.

As well as this:

If you turn off Dictation, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data. Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Dictation and other Apple products and services. This voice input data may include audio files and transcripts of what you said and related diagnostic data, such as hardware and operating system specifications and performance statistics.

If you are ok with all that information being sent to Apple then it’s no problem. Since I use iCloud, the way I think about this is, all my contacts are already synced with the Apple servers, I use Siri (that gets sent to Apple as well) and they already have diagnostic data from my Mac and iOS devices. So am I really giving them anything new? Not really, over the years I’ve probably sent more data to Apple than I know of. This information isn’t being used to spy on your, it’s being used to make dictation and voice recognition better.

I find that dictation has good days and bad days, sometimes the servers are fast and sometimes they are slow. It can be pretty frustrating, especially when it takes around 5-10 seconds to receive the text. All in all though, it works great most of the time.

The built-in dictation feature isn’t your only option for a Mac however, if you are interested in an alternative, check out Dragon Dictate for Mac.