One of the great qualities of language is that it allows people to connect across seemingly unbridgeable gaps. Above and beyond the everyday miracle of two distinct persons being able to share their feelings across a cup of coffee, language is flexible enough to be jump multiple mediums, and translate through several languages, without the conveyed content transforming too much. Famously, Helen Keller learned to read and write through the touch of her teacher; Christy Brown composed poetry through the only limb left under his control, the eponymous left foot; and Jean-Dominique Bauby, completely paralyzed except for his left eye following a car accident, wrote his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking.
Technology has improved our ability to take advantage of just how tough language is, allowing more and more people to express themselves with greater and greater freedom. A simple example of this, that has nonetheless proved useful for many students and teachers facing widely varying challenges to their ability to communicate, is speech-to-text. There are several tools out there that you can purchase for speech-to-text, most famously Dragon Dictation, that vary in quality and price (Dragon is quite expensive). However, if you have a Mac or a Windows computer, you’ll be happy to know that very functional speech-to-text software comes pre-installed on your machines.
For the Mac, you can use “Dictation,” which is a feature easily located via the Menu bar at the top of the screen. Simply click “Edit,” then “Start Dictation.”
The Windows equivalent of Dictation is “Dictate,” which you can locate by clicking “Start,” then “All Programs,” then “Accessories,” then “Ease of Access,” and finally selecting “Windows Speech Recognition.” Then, whenever you want to activate the speech recognition in Windows, say “Start Listening” out loud or simply click the microphone button.
For both Windows and Mac, wherever your cursor is (so long as the application will receive text) what you say aloud will be written out for you. By this we mean that the speech-to-text software will work in Word, Google Docs, Notepad—just about anything you would possibly need to enter text into.
Both tools work quite well, and work even better after you’ve gotten used to them. I’m using Mac’s Dictation feature to write this article right now.
Finally, we’d like to point out how speech-to-text software can be useful to a wide range of people. In addition to those for whom speech-to-text software is a lifelong necessity, we’ve heard stories of students using speech-to-text after a moderate injury to the hands made it very difficult and/or painful to type. Arthritis may also make speech-to-text a viable alternative, or unforeseen problems with eyesight for those who can’t type by feel.
However you use it, we’ve found the speech-to-text capabilities of today’s computers to have surprisingly wide-ranging value. Maybe you’ll use Dictation just to give your wrists a break at the end of the day and discover that you’re way more productive speaking than you were typing. Hey, that’s how Robin Masters wrote all of his books.